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Employment at-will, wrongful termination and resolving employment disputes

For most people, job security is an important feature—or desired feature—of their work, and yet many people do not realize that the general rule of employment is that it is at-will. This means that, just as an employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, employers also generally have the same right.

At-will employment is the default rule in every state except Montana, where employees have greater protections from termination. The general rule of at-will employment does admit of certain exceptions, though, and some of these are quite important. First of all, two important exceptions are illegal discrimination and retaliation. 

Illegal discrimination is prohibited under both federal and state statutes. Different statutes vary in the protections provided, but generally prohibit employers from basing employment decisions on an employee’s membership in a protected class. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, nation of origin, age, and disability or veteran status. Both federal and state laws also protect employees from retaliating against an employee for engaging in protected activities. Protected activity includes reporting violations of law, including illegal discrimination,

Beyond these statutes, some states recognize certain common law based exceptions to the at-will rule, such as public policy, implied contracts of employment, implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing, tort-based claims which limit at-will employment, and promissory estoppel, which is an equitable remedy that can limit at-will employment under certain circumstances.

In our next post, we’ll say more about this issue, as well as how an experienced business law attorney can help provide zealous advocacy and sound counsel in the context of wrongful termination disputes. 

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