An at-will employment contract allows an employer to terminate an employee and an employee to quit at any time for no reason whatsoever. All employees, in every State except Montana, are considered “at-will” which means they can be terminated “without cause”. There are exceptions to this rule in most States, such as if the employee informs a government agency that the employer is breaking the law. Otherwise, without a written agreement stating the employee is not considered at-will, or other language located in the employee policy manual or handbook, an employee can be terminated at any time and for any reason.

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What is ‘At-Will Employment’?

Also known as the ‘at-will employment doctrine‘, is an employment status where the employee can be terminated at any time even when doing nothing wrong. There are exceptions to this but otherwise, most States give the power in this regard to the employer, not the employee. If the employee feels as though the employer terminated them unjustly then it is up to the employee to do so in the court of law. This usually requires hiring an attorney with unfavorably high legal costs. Therefore, it is best for the employee to have an understanding of the laws in their State and to authorize an employment contract that offers sufficient protection.

Three (3) Exceptions to At-Will Employment

At-will employment is accepted in all fifty (50) States except Montana. However, in most States there are three (3) exceptions where the employee may be able to make claims against the employer:

1.) Public Policy Exceptions

A public policy exemption means that the employee cannot be fired for an act that is in accordance with State or Federal law. For example, if an employee informs a government agency that the employer is wrongfully disposing materials into a local river, the employee cannot be fired for such action.

However, there are eight (8) States that do not allow this protected employee right:

  • Alabama
  • *Florida
  • Georgia
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Nebraska
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

*In Florida, there are three (3) exceptions (§ 448.102).

2.) Implied Contract Exceptions

If there is an implied contract then the employee may be able to get claim they were not an at-will employee. This is when there is no contract written, although, in the company’s policy, handbook, or in the employee’s original offer letter it stated that they were not an at-will employee. This is often difficult to prove unless there is black-and-white evidence proving otherwise.

The following fourteen (14) States do not have this exception:

  • Arizona
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Virginia

3.) Implied-in-Law Exceptions

An implied-in-law contract, or “quasi-contract”, is when a party performs an action for an unjust reason, such as an employer firing an employee for a reason that has nothing to do with their work ethic. An example of this could be the employer decides to terminate an employee due to finding cheaper labor elsewhere. Another example could be an employer fires a long-standing employee just before retirement or other benefits become due.

There are eleven (11) States that allow this exception:

  • Alabam
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

How to Write an At-Will Employment Agreement

Download: Adobe PDF, Microsoft Word (.docx)

Step 1