At Will Employment- What does it mean?

Scanning the internet, I’ve come across more and more posts detailing the events around people getting fired- “Can you be fired for using Facebook?”, “Man Fired For Not Dressing Up Like Santa”, “Nurses Fired for Cell Phone Pictures of Patients” all give interesting viewpoints on these workplace stories. What most people do not realize is that a condition of at-will employment means that employers do not have to give any particular reason at all.

At will employment is the prevailing form of employment throughout most of the United States. As a provision of at will employment, employers can terminate the working relationship with an employee at any time, for most any reason or no reason at all. Likewise, an employee has no obligation to remain working for a particular company.

The exceptions to this rule come when it can be shown that an individual has been fired for reasons relating to discrimination relating to an employees belonging to a protected group- gender, race religion etc. As well, Federal statues have been signed into law that expand the rights of at will employees- the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Leave Medical Act, and many others. New York currently has a Whistleblower statue designed to protect employees who report their bosses. However, this only comes into effect in reporting incidents that have to deal with the public health, severely limiting its use.

As the job market continues to tighten, many individuals are finding themselves without work, and without a reason for their termination. While discouraging, it does not always mean that an individual has not been discriminated or harassed in the course of their employment. If you do have questions resulting from your termination, your best bet would to discuss your situation with an employment attorney.