Employment-at-Will Doctrine

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Topics: Employment
Employment-At-Will Doctrine
In the United States, employees without a written employment contract generally can be fired for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all; judicial exceptions to the rule seek to prevent wrongful termination. There are three exceptions to the doctrine that are recognized across the 50 states. These exceptions address employment terminations that are in line with the doctrine requirements but are probably not justified [Muhl, 2001].

Public-policy exception
Under the public-policy exception to employment at will, an employee is wrongfully discharged when the termination is against an explicit, well-established public policy of the State. For example, in most States, an employer cannot terminate an employee for filing a workers’ compensation claim after being injured on the job, or for refusing to break the law at the request of the employer. The public-policy exception is the most widely accepted exception, recognized in 43 of the 50 States [Muhl, 2001].

Implied-contract exception
The second major exception to the employment-at-will doctrine is applied when an implied contract is formed between an employer and employee, even though no express, written instrument regarding the employment relationship exists. Although employment is typically not governed by a contract, an employer may make oral or written representations to employees regarding job security or procedures that will be followed when adverse employment actions are taken. If so, these representations may create a contract for employment. This exception is recognized in 38 of the 50 States [Muhl, 2001].

Covenant-of-good-faith exception
This exception at its broadest reads a covenant of good faith and fair dealing into every employment relationship. It has been interpreted to mean either that employer personnel decisions are subject to a “just cause” standard or that terminations made in bad faith or motivated by malice are prohibited. This exception is

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