Let us tell you a story that many who have worked under at-will employment have experienced. John Smith had been working as an accountant at a major corporation for four years. He had consistently received positive feedback from his supervisors and colleagues and even earned a promotion two years ago. However, he was surprised when one day out of the blue, his employer called him into their office and informed him that he was being terminated effective immediately.
John was confused and asked why he was being fired. His employer stated that they did not need to provide any reason or explanation for their decision to terminate him. As John left the office, still with unanswered questions, he was without assistance, guidance, or support in finding a new position or providing for himself and his family for the foreseeable future.
In multiple states, unemployment is affected by why you were terminated, so being fired without reason can be devastating. Some employees can’t even receive financial support during this trying time. When this happens, you have to wonder how you can prepare and protect yourself in the future so this doesn’t happen again. You might even consider the possibility of filing a claim against your employer because your termination might have been illegal.
If you’re unsure of your situation and what to do when you work for an at-will employment business, contact the employment law attorneys at Barrett & Farahany. Our attorneys will help you understand your options and your rights as an at-will employee.
What is At-Will Employment?
At-will employment means that businesses can hire and fire people whenever they want. This also means that an employee can quit their job at any time without giving a reason or notice, though employers have been able to punish employees for this behavior. The opposite has not been true.
Businesses view this as a good thing because they can adjust their workforce whenever. It’s not as great for employees because it also means that often people don’t have job security. In fact, they can be let go without warning or cause. This can make it hard for people to prepare for the life ahead of them.
Why Do Businesses Use At-Will Employment?
Businesses use at-will employment for more than just the ability to adjust their workforce. Having the ability to hire and fire people without cause or warning allows them to potentially get away with firing someone illegally. Not having to disclose one’s reasoning means that higher-ups can fire people they don’t personally like, fire people for discriminatory reasons, or fire people in retaliation.
It also works as a threat to current employees to make them work harder than they may need to. The threat of being fired even while you are doing your job adequately and properly, makes people overwork. There are health risks that stem from overworking that employers may not even have to deal with.
What Concerns Should At-Will Employees Have?
The primary concern for employees regarding at-will employment is job security. Without job security, it can be difficult to make long-term plans or invest in the future, especially since being fired without cause or warning is an ever-present worry.
Furthermore, the lack of job security can also create an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear amongst workers, as well as lower morale. Additionally, a business’s ability to hire and fire can lead to the exploitation of workers by employers who don’t honor their agreements or go back on their promises. This can include decreased pay and benefits, increased workloads, and a lack of respect from management.
In some cases, this can lead to a feeling of powerlessness among workers who feel they have no recourse when their rights are violated. At-will employment makes it more difficult for employees to unionize or organize in other ways since they are constantly at risk of being fired for doing so. While unionizing is a protected activity, when an employer doesn’t have to give a reason for firing an employee, the employee has to prove retaliation was the reason for their termination.
What Protections Do Employees Have Under At-Will Employment?
At-will employment does not protect employees from being terminated for certain activities. Other laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, make terminations based on discrimination illegal.
For example, an employer cannot legally terminate someone based on their race, gender, religion, national origin, age (over 40 years old), disability status, or genetic information. Additionally, employers cannot legally fire someone for retaliating against them after they’ve reported a violation of federal law or exercised a right under workplace laws. Furthermore, employers cannot terminate employees for taking part in specific activities protected by state and federal labor laws, such as filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Finally, employers can’t fire people for taking time off work due to illness or to care for a family member who is ill, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act. All these types of activities are legally protected, and if an employer is found to have violated these laws, then they could face serious consequences such as fines and lawsuits from the terminated employee. If you believe they fired you for any of these reasons, you may have a legal claim.
Contact the Employment Law Attorneys at Barrett & Farahany for Help
At-will employment is not here to help employees. If you are worried about your employment or have already been terminated by your employer under suspicious circumstances, gather what evidence you can. With a consultation with our attorneys, we can work with you to determine whether or not you have a case. Then if possible, we can move forward with devising a legal strategy against your employer. Contact us for more information and to schedule a free consultation.