“At Will” Employment not an Excuse for Wrongful Termination


A higher hourly minimum wage and more job security are what most employees in the US need right now, especially those who are employed in industries that give lower pay, such as employment, retail and food services. Low-paying jobs actually began to be created in 2010 (after the recession), replacing mid-wage jobs, which saw the lay-off of thousands of middle-income earners.

The creation of many new jobs that pay low wages may not be the only source of dismay to the so many unemployed who are still seeking work, though. Probably equally worrisome, as being paid a lower wage or being laid off, is the growing practice in many firms, which is granting “at will” employment to applicants.

The “Employment at Will” doctrine, which is now legally practiced by companies in almost all US states, recognizes the right of an employee to resign from work anytime; in like manner, it gives the employer the right to terminate an employee whenever he/she wishes. Resignation from work or termination of work may be done whether the reason is justifiable or not, or even if there is no reason at all, and no court would usually intervene to protect the employee unless any of the laws that protect employee rights has been violated.

Job application forms and employees’ handbooks usually indicate this “at will” phrase. Refusal to affix one’s signature on any employment contract that will indicate conformity to the “at will” policy may result to being denied employment or termination.

Despite the legality of the “Employment at Will” doctrine, employers should realize that such is not a ticket to discriminately end one’s employment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which implements anti-discrimination laws, as well as the courts, will not simply dismiss termination cases where there are cries of foul play or discriminatory acts.

Many wrongful termination cases have been proven in spite of the “at will” employment policy. The most common causes of wrongful termination are retaliation of a superior against an employee, whistle blowing, an employee refusing to perform an illegal act for his/her employer, and employment discrimination practices.

On its website, The Melton Law Firm strongly emphasizes that employers are legally accountable for the wrongful termination of any of their employees. And that, despite the “at will” policy, employers’ right to terminate any one is still limited by certain laws.