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HomeConsumer EducationThe Law of "Unjust Discharge"

The employment-at-will doctrine applies to any employee without an explicit contract for a fixed term. This doctrine, in effect, gives an employer the right to terminate, fire, or let go of any employee for any given reason lawfully. Fortunately for employees, there have been many amendments to the at-will doctrine over the years. Commonly referred to as “The Law of Unjust Discharge,” These laws, having been created by statute or court decisions, significantly restrict an employer’s right to discharge at-will employees, thereby substantially eroding the legal and practical effect of the at-will doctrine.

Here in the United States, there are a lot of employment practices. One of these practices that many might be a little familiar with is what we call At-Will employment. Although it is a practice that has been there, not many people have fully understood what it means and how it is carried out. The big question that many ask is whether an employer has the right to fire an employee without any reason? That is, can an employer terminate someone from his or her job at will without any specific cause. First, we need to look at what it means and how it can be applied in the workplace. At-will employment is a contractual right for an employer to terminate an employee at any time for no reason.

On the other hand, an employee can change jobs or stop working without notifying the employer. The At-will employment act usually doesn’t have any predefined legal requirements like what many people are used to giving or being given information in terms of time. Under At-will employment, one can be released or terminated without any notice or prior notice.

Over the past years, At-will employment has grown, and it continues gaining popularity as many see it as a type of work that is flexible for both parties. There are no issues of notices or compensation in the event of termination either from the employer or employee. On the part of the employer, there is an allowance to change terms of employment without giving any prior notice. On the other hand, an employee can decide to change jobs without notice if they choose to. The main point is both the employer and employee can take action concerning their contracts when they feel they want. For employees, it is usually best to give notice if they wish to change jobs as this protects one’s reputation with future employers.

Legal protections

At-will employment has fewer protections compared to other employment contracts; however, employees have safeguards and protections in place. Some of these benefits may include statutory rights enacted by different jurisprudences like having unemployment insurance and laws against discrimination. Both the federal and state governments have laws that protect at-will employees from avoiding experiences of wrongful dismission. Sometimes an employee can be terminated because of issues like race, religion, citizenship, and sometimes it’s retaliation from the organization because the employee performed an act legally protected, disability, gender, age, sexual orientation, among other factors that are provided by law. Other than legal provisions from different states and the federal government, other companies have policies that offer protection if an employee gets terminated under certain conditions.

In the United States, in most of the states, most employees are considered to be at-will employees, and exceptions are only when the employment contract has stated otherwise. In this case, the employee can terminate his agreement and change jobs without prior notice. When an employee or employer in at-will employment chooses to terminate the contract, there is usually no alternative at all from the other party. A lot of private companies have this form of the arrangement. Still, a lot of unions and public companies do not follow it, and in there they have a requirement, there must be a justifiable reason for contract termination, and there must be a notice to that effect. 

 The exception under At-will employment

There are legal provisions that protect employees from unjust terminations. Several exceptions are usually applied to At-Will employment acts. These provisions prevent employers from misusing their rights. Specific laws apply in cases of wrongful termination, especially for illegal reasons, and some of these exceptions include; an employee fired because of discriminatory reasons. Under the Civil Rights Act, employees are protected from any form of discrimination like race, religion, color, and sex. An employer cannot discriminate against an employer based on any of those statuses mentioned.

Other exceptions include firing an employee out of retaliation because the employee carried out an otherwise action that is legally protected. An employer cannot terminate an employee because he had filed a workers’ compensation or a harassment suit, being a whistleblower regarding illegal activities, being part of an investigation in the workplace, taking legally protected leave from work, among others. Besides, one cannot be fired when he or she has a contract with terms of employment outlined. Such an employee cannot be fired outside these terms. An employer who provides protections in contracts cannot also fire an employee at will because once there are protections entrenched, that means the employer cannot have at-will employment.

Way to go for employers and employees

The bottom line is that most employers state clearly in their handbooks, which usually helps prevent disputes that may arise. In the case an employee signs at-will employment, he or she must be ready to follow the procedures if there is a termination of the contract. Such is the case, and the employee is supposed to follow the guidelines outlines when given any form of employment. At the same time, it is usually best to make sure all issues are clarified before taking a job.

At-will employment is something that many employers follow these days. For the part of the employee, it is best to be ready for a short notice transition, especially with the job market today. It helps one to adapt quickly and get going into the job market. To avoid having a bad reputation, most employers give employees a chance to make their transition soft. They will provide a warning before termination in a bid to help the employees. Some will even go a mile ahead and pay severance once they have terminated your contract. As an employee, it is good to be ready. Although it is there, it is also not very easy to terminate an at-will employee, and employers should always check the laws in their jurisprudence to avoid falling into harsh disputes that might be costly.


 The exception under At-will employment



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