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Looking at the “at-will” employment presumption, and exceptions to the rule, P.1

Security is an important issue in many areas of life, and employment is no exception. Employees rely on their employment for their livelihood, and it is natural to feel that some degree of job security is deserved. The truth, however, is that employers have a lot of discretion in terms of letting employees go.

The presumption, in all states except Montana, is that employment is “at will,” meaning that employers may legally terminate an employee at any time, for any reason. There are certain important exceptions to the rule, though, as well as the possibility of modifying the rule by contract. 

Statutory exceptions to the at-will rule include the prohibition against termination based on illegal discrimination. An employer who terminates an employee based on race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, disability or veteran status is in the wrong. Most employers are going to attempt to cover up any illegal discrimination, of course, and it is important to work with an experienced attorney to build the strongest possible case.

Employers are also prohibited from terminating employees based on retaliation for the employee’s exercise of his or her legal rights. An employer may not, for example, fire an employee for blowing the whistle on persistent financial fraud within the company. Some states also have protections for employees who engage in protected off-duty activities. Here again, employers are typically going to do everything possible to avoid accusations of illegal termination, and this is where an experienced legal advocate is indispensable.

In a future post, we’ll continue looking at this topic. 

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