The Workplace Law Advisor: From Harassment and Discrimination Policies to Hiring and Firing Guidelines: What Every Manager and Employee Needs to Know

By Anne Covey | Go to book overview

five
The Much Misunderstood
Employment-at-Will Doctrine

Under current law, many employers seek to protect their interests against employment litigation by clearly stating that the employment relationship is "at will". However, most employees are angry with and dispute what they refer to as the employer's "insensitive labeling." Although the term "at-will employment" has created much hostility and frustration, few individuals understand the term or why it is used. A clear understanding of the employment-at-will doctrine will resolve the unnecessary distrust associated with this misunderstood concept.

In this chapter I explain the common-law origin of the term and why the courts insist upon its continued use in today's marketplace. The nature of the disputes concerning the employment-at-will concept has expanded over the years, almost to the point that the exceptions overshadow the rule. Many of the new bases for enlarging employer responsibility and liability have been premised on what is fair and reasonable in view of all of the facts, and creative employee attorneys have led the way in this trend. To help you avoid the costly consequences of your actions becoming a legal exception to the employment-at-will rule, I examine some of those exceptions and discuss ways to live within the rule.


At-Will Employment Defined

The employment-at-will doctrine was transported to the new world with the English settlers in the seventeenth century and the common law. Throughout much of history, the at-will concept remained intact-a master or employer had the right to fire its servants or employees at any time, for any reason, with no prior notice. The basic ingredients of the master/servant or employer/em-

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