What is At-Will Employment?

In all U.S. states except Montana, employment relationships are presumed to be “at-will”.  At-will employment refers to the general legal presumption that, in the absence of an employment contract stating otherwise, an employer has the right to terminate an employment relationship with an employee for any reason, without having to establish “just cause” for the dismissal.

Employers have the right to terminate at-will employees for various reasons such as poor work performance, tardiness, absenteeism, misconduct, or economic necessity.

When an employer fires an at-will employee, unless there is a federal, state or local anti-discrimination or other relevant law which applies, employees have no legal cause of action against an employer.

Further, employers also have the right to change the terms of an at-will employment relationship without notice, such as altering wages, terminating benefits, or reducing paid time off.

There are some exceptions to the at-will presumption, such as public policy, implied contract, and implied covenant of good faith, but not all states recognize all of these exceptions. There still remains a strong at-will legal presumption which can make it difficult for employees to prove their case falls under one of the exceptions.

Employers and employees should also be aware that while there may be many federal and state anti-discrimination statutes which prohibit employers from taking an employment action based on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation or veteran status for example, these laws only shield employees who are members of the protected classes enumerated in the law.

The information on this website is intended as general legal information only and should not form the basis of legal advice of any kind. Individuals seeking specific legal advice should consult a lawyer.


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New Jersey lawyer turned blogger, podcaster and legal changemaker.