Employment at will is a legal agreement that allows employers to fire employees without warning, reason, or explanation. Similarly, this working arrangement makes it possible for an employee to leave a job without cause or notice if they choose.
While at-will employment gives employees little or no protection if they get fired for discriminatory reasons, it has become increasingly popular in recent years.
Is At-Will Employment a Blank Check to be Fired?
At-will-employment may sound like a blank check for employers to fire employees without any reason. Since this type of employment arrangement does not include requirements like notice or severance pay, it is easy to assume employers have excess power over their employees, meaning they can dismiss them without cause. However, that is not always the case.
Some states have laws that make “at-will” agreements unenforceable to protect employees. For example, California’s Wrongful Termination Act prohibits employers with five or more workers from dismissing employees without good cause. That means employees whose employment has been terminated for unlawful reasons may qualify for compensation through a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Legal Protections of At-will Employees
Whether or not an employee is working under the at-will employment agreement, their rights are protected by state and federal workers’ compensation laws. “Wrongful termination includes termination based on: sex, race, age, religion, national origin and/or disability. Current US law also doesn’t allow employees to be fired for retaliation or outward disagreement with illegal business practices (whistleblowers),” says Georgia Business Lawyer, Jonathan Sparks.
In addition to this protection, employees also have certain rights granted by the government, such as a minimum wage requirement, equal pay, and overtime pay. The Equal Pay Act also protects both men and women who perform similar work but receive different compensation by requiring gender equality between wages paid to male and female employees.
An employer may also not retaliate against an employee for exercising these rights or participating in other protected activities. These include filing complaints about illegal employment practices with regulatory agencies like OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) or NLRB (National Labor Relations Board).
How to Prepare for Employment-At-Will Agreement Before Signing It
To protect yourself from discriminatory employment termination, you need to make it clear in your employment contract. For example, you can include a statement saying that the employer has no right to terminate your employment except for cause or outlined in the document. Additionally, have your contract include a clear notice about how long this period lasts — typically one year. If you meet these requirements, an employer may not terminate your employment without reason, even if you signed the at-will employment agreement.
Just because at-will employment allows you to quit without notice, it is generally best to provide one or two weeks’ notice when you decide to leave. This helps protect your reputation with future employers. At the same time, you need to always prepare for the worst as you may never know when your employer might fire you when working under this working arrangement.
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