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Employment at Will

QUESTION Can I can fire somebody whenever and for whatever I want?



Dear CSO:

Your question cannot be answered by saying “yes” or “no” because the answer is “yes” AND “no.” The employment at will doctrine states that the employment relationship is for no specific period of time and can be ended by either party at any time, for any reason or for no reason. HOWEVER (AND IT IS A BIG HOWEVER), the concept of “employment at will” has been watered down to the point that it has little meaning anymore.  For example, an employer violates public policy when terminating an employee who is serving on jury duty or serves as a witness in court.

Discrimination laws, whistleblowing laws, retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other employment related legislation have made the concept virtually useless. There have been a few occasions in which we have utilized the concept to “can” people, but only after reviewing all of the potential risks.

All of this legislation has also increased employee awareness of their so-called rights.  Our experience indicates that when employees are terminated for no cause or feel that the employer’s treatment of them is unfair, they will want to retaliate.  We are working on three EEOC charges of discrimination now that have no merit – but were filed by the terminated employee as a way to get back at the company for firing them. Therefore, we recommend that employers stop thinking about employment at will in their dealings with employees and treat them with fairness, consistency, respect and dignity.  Keep the employment at will statements on your applications, offer letters and handbook, because you may have to revert to it from time to time.  But use it very rarely.

Sorry for the long answer.  Here’s a link to a great article about employment at will.

Thanks for Asking Bob

Response From Brian:

Man, “Ask Bob” really works!

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