What Is At-Will Employment?

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At-will employment refers to a type of employment arrangement in which an employee may be dismissed at any time for any reason, with or without cause. The at-will doctrine is based on the premise that employers and employees can freely enter into and terminate an employment relationship at will. As such, at-will employees do not have guaranteed job security and may be discharged at any time without warning or justification.

How to Know If You’re An At-Will Employee?

Employees need to know whether they are at-will employees or not, as at-will employment can limit an employee’s legal protection from wrongful termination. To determine if you are at-will, look at the language of your employment contract or contact your human resources department. Generally speaking, at-will employees don’t have a contract that explicitly states that they are at-will employees.

Exceptions To At-Will Employment

While at-will is the typical form of employment in most states, there are certain exceptions. These can include an implied contract, good faith and fair dealing, public policy exceptions, and a covenant of good faith.

Implied Contract Exception – The at-will doctrine can be modified by certain personnel policies and practices that may create an implied contract between the employer and employee. The existence of a policy manual or handbook detailing at-will employment, however, could be sufficient to demonstrate at-will status.

Good Faith And Fair Dealing Exception – This exception states that at-will employees cannot be terminated for reasons that violate public policy or good faith and fair dealing.

Public Policy Exceptions – These exceptions involve protecting an employee from dismissal if the termination is for reasons that violate public policy, such as refusal to violate the law or engaging in protected activities.

What Types Of Jobs Are Not At-Will?

Certain jobs are not at-will employment arrangements and are governed by contracts. These can include union jobs, government jobs, certain professional jobs (e.g., doctors, lawyers, etc.), and jobs with stated terms of employment (e.g., seasonal, temporary).

What Are The Reasons An Employee Can Be Terminated With At-Will Employment?

At-will employers can terminate an at-will employee at any time, without good cause or reason. The employee need not have done anything wrong; they may simply be laid off due to downsizing, or the employer’s decision to change directions.

What Employment Can’t An Employee Be Terminated For?

At-will employees cannot be terminated for reasons that violate public policy or good faith and fair dealing. This includes refusing to engage in illegal activities at the request of their employer or reporting occupational safety or health violations at their workplace.


At-will employment is the most common form of employment in the United States, but it is important to know what type of employee you are so that you can understand your legal rights and protections. It is also important to be aware of some of the exceptions to at-will employment and the reasons that you can and cannot be terminated under at-will employment laws. Understanding at-will employment is essential for both employees and employers so that they are aware of their rights and obligations in the workplace.

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