Employment at Will

Topics: Employment, At-will employment, Employment law terms Pages: 5 (969 words) Published: March 5, 2013
Employment-at-Will Exceptions:
Overview of Associated Terms and Phrases

The following descriptions of terms and phrases from the Employment-at-Will multimedia are provided for further review and study. For more information on each term or phrase, refer to the pages provided from the Employment Law for Business text.

Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

In an employment relationship, this breach may occur if the parties have entered into an employment contract. In a contractual context, there is an implied presumption that neither party will do anything that prevents the other from receiving the fruits of the contract. Not all states recognize this exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 36-39)

Constructive Discharge

Constructive discharge may result when there is no reasonable alternative for the employee other than leaving the employment relationship. Leaving under these conditions is considered involuntary. Under these circumstances, the employer causes the employee discharge even if they did not outright fire the employee. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, p. 44)

Public Policy

Public policy exceptions to at-will employment are recognized to varying degrees by many states. In the employment relationship, public policy violations normally involve employee termination for refusing to violate the law, exercising or fulfilling a legal right or duty, or disclosing law breaking by an employer. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 28-31)


Whistle-blowing is an example of a public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. The term refers to an instance of reporting by an employee of an employer’s violation of the law or wrongdoing. A majority of states have established laws that offer some form of protection for whistle-blowers. One congressional act, the Whistleblowers Protection Act, and one statute, the Federal Whistleblower Statute, have also expanded protection for whistle-blowers. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 31-32)

Sarbanes-Oxley Act

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act enacted in 2002 includes various provisions supportive of ethical conduct in public companies. One element of the act protects employees, who expose corporate misconduct related to violations of federal law, from retaliation. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, p. 32)

Retaliatory Discharge

Allegations of retaliatory discharge entail the appearance of a connection between action taken against one’s employer such as a claim, complaint, or other charge and subsequent termination of the employment relationship. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 47-50)

Promissory Estoppel

Promissory estoppel is an exception to the at-will doctrine; proof rests with the employee to prove he or she reasonably relied on a promise made by an employer that proved to be to his or her disadvantage. Under this exception, an implied or expressed promise did not rise to the level of a contract. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 42-43)

Tort Liability

In an employment context, a tort refers to an injury, malfeasance, or violation directed toward an employee. Termination occurring under circumstances of outrageous conduct on the part of the employer may result in a tort claim for wrongful discharge. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, p. 52)


Defamation of character is a tort liability. In the employment context, claiming defamation involves an employee’s ability to prove defamatory statements caused him or her injury. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, p. 52)

Breach of Implied Contract

A breach of implied contract may occur if, for example, the stages of discipline outlined in an employee handbook are not carried out prior to an employee discharge. (Bennett-Alexander, 2007, pp. 39-42)


In an employment policy manual or handbook, a disclaimer is an effective tool against potential liability. Employment manuals may constitute a limitation to the at-will doctrine by signifying an implied...

Cited: Bennett-Alexander, D. D. & Hartman, P. L. (2007). Employment law for business (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
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