At-Will Employment

What is At-Will Employment?

At-will employment means an employer can end someone's job anytime and for almost any reason. It's okay to do so without warning. The employee can also choose to leave a job anytime and for any reason. At-will employment is very common in the United States.

Employers cannot fire someone because they are in a protected group (based on race, religion, etc.) or because they acted on their legal rights. An employer can also change the terms of the position at any time. There are some exceptions to at-will employment, such as the public policy exception and the implied contract exception.

Which States Have At-Will Employment?

Every state (and Washington, DC) assumes that you and your employees have an at-will relationship unless there is a legal agreement that says otherwise.

Montana is the exception. The state requires a probationary period for new employees, after which termination is only lawful if for good cause.

Most states have exceptions to the at-will employment rule, like the public policy exception and the implied contract exception. However, the following states do not allow any exceptions:

  • Alabama

  • Florida

  • Georgia

  • Louisiana

  • Maine

  • Nebraska

  • New York

  • Rhode Island

How Can I Clearly Establish At-Will Expectations With Employees?

To ensure everyone knows the at-will relationship, put clear language about this in your employee handbook. Even with an at-will relationship, if someone is fired, they can claim it was for an illegal reason. To avoid this risk and stop any false claims, always have a legal business reason when firing someone and write it down.

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