What is At-Will Employment?

"At-Will Employment" means that if an employee is not covered by an employment contract, the employee can't be forced to stay with an employer and, in turn, an employer can't be forced to keep the employee and can terminate him/her at any time. In other words, the employee can quit at any time and the employer can let the employee go at any time. It has been the unwritten employment contract for decades. (It had its origin in English common law and had begun to gain acceptance in the U.S. by 1877.) However, during the past twenty years, some state courts have made exceptions to the "at-will" doctrine. These exceptions are designed to protect employees from abuse or unequal treatment by their employers. This opened the door for an onslaught of litigation. In many states, discharged employees can now recover economic losses and get their jobs back by proving: (1) that the employer broke an implied contract of continued employment (such as an implied promise of job security); or (2) that the termination was contrary to public policy (such as dismissal for refusing to violate a law). A few states also include (3) that the termination violated an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (meaning the company was unfair).

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