join our network! affiliate login  
Custom Search
Daily and Weekly Editions • Articles • Alerts • Expert Advice • Learn More
Search HR Guidebook:  
« Go Back

Employment At Will

What does it mean to be “employed at-will”?

It means that you are free to terminate an employee at any time, for any reason or for no reason at all.  Accordingly, an employee cannot sue you for firing him unless he can articulate a limitation on your right to discharge.  In most states, the limitations are narrowly tailored.  For example, employers are generally prohibited from discharging employees when the discharge violates some broad public policy.  That is, an employee may be allowed to sue his employer if the employee is terminated for refusing to commit a crime or prevented from complying with a statutory duty.

Of course, an employer may enter into a contract with an employee and therein voluntarily agree to limit its right to discharge an at-will employee.  In those instances, the employee may sue the employer for breach of contract if the employer fails or refuses to abide by the terms of the contract.  The nature of the employee’s claim will depend on the nature of the contract in question.  In some instances the contract will be express (e.g., a written agreement between the parties) and in others it will be implied (e.g., an obligation that arises from an employee manual or other acts or statements made by the employer).

At will employees may also sue their employers if a statute specifically provides for a right of action.  Thus, for example, an employee may sue his employer if his termination violates an applicable antidiscrimination statute, like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The importance of an at-will disclaimer that employee manual

As mentioned above, an employer may inadvertently limit its right to discharge at will employees by making promises to employees in an employee manual.  For example, in some states, courts have recognized the right of an employee to sue an employer when the employer fails or refuses to abide by the terms of a progressive discipline policy.  These types of claims can generally be overcome if the employee handbook contains a clear statement that all employment is “at will” and that the employer is free to discharge, with or without cause.

Category:Legal Considerations


Ogletree Deakins | California | The Opportunities and Obligations of Venture Capital and Private Equity in the #MeToo Environment (February 01, 2018)

Fisher Phillips | California | Glimmers of Hope? Pair of Recent PAGA Cases Provide Rare Procedural Victories for California Employers (January 31, 2018)

Fisher Phillips | California | DLSE Publishes Voluntary Template for Required Employer AB 450 Notice (February 11, 2018)

Ogletree Deakins | California | California’s Salary History Ban: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (January 23, 2018)

Fisher Phillips | California | The ICEman Cometh? Recent War of Words Puts California Employers in the Crosshairs of National Immigration Debate (January 22, 2018)

Ogletree Deakins | California | Cal/OSHA Approves Long-Awaited Housekeeper Injury Prevention Regulations (January 24, 2018)

Jackson Lewis P.C. | California | Trial Court Properly Denied Attorneys’ Fees To Plaintiff Who Proved His Termination Was Substantially Motivated By His Disabilities, But Was Not The Prevailing Party At Trial (January 21, 2018)

Fisher Phillips | California | Cal/OSHA Approves Hotel Housekeeping Injury Standard – Likely to Go Into Effect Later This Year (January 21, 2018)

Jackson Lewis P.C. | California | California Labor Department Releases Form for Employers Responding to Immigration Agency Inspection (February 12, 2018)

Ogletree Deakins | California | As Marijuana Shops Thrive, California Employers Revisit Drug Policies (January 18, 2018)