At-will employment is a term used in U.S. labor law for contractual relationships in which an employee can be dismissed by an employer for any reason (that is, without having to establish "just cause" for termination), and without warning,as long as the reason is not illegal (e.g. firing because of the employee's race or religion). When an employee is acknowledged as being hired "at will," courts deny the employee any claim for loss resulting from the dismissal. The rule is justified by its proponents on the basis that an employee may be similarly entitled to leave his or her job without reason or warning. The practice is seen as unjust by those who view the employment relationship as characterized by inequality of bargaining power.
United States labor law sets the rights and duties for employees, labor unions, and employers in the United States. Labor law's basic aim is to remedy the "inequality of bargaining power" between employees and employers, especially employers "organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association". Over the 20th century, federal law created minimum social and economic rights, and encouraged state laws to go beyond the minimum to favor employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 requires a federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 but higher in 28 states, and discourages working weeks over 40 hours through time-and-a-half overtime pay. There are no federal or state laws requiring paid holidays or paid family leave: the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 creates a limited right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in larger employers. There is no automatic right to an occupational pension beyond federally guaranteed social security, but the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 requires standards of prudent management and good governance if employers agree to provide pensions, health plans or other benefits. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employees have a safe system of work.
Dismissal is the termination of employment by an employer against the will of the employee. Though such a decision can be made by an employer for a variety of reasons, ranging from an economic downturn to performance-related problems on the part of the employee, being fired has a strong stigma in some cultures.
Just cause is a common standard in United States labor law arbitration that is used in labor union contracts in the United States as a form of job security.
At-will employment gradually became the default rule under the common law of the employment contract in most U.S. states during the late 19th century, and was endorsed by the U.S. Supreme Court during the Lochner era, when members of the U.S. judiciary consciously sought to prevent government regulation of labor markets.Over the 20th century, many states modified the rule by adding an increasing number of exceptions, or by changing the default expectations in the employment contract altogether. In workplaces with a trade union recognized for purposes of collective bargaining, and in many public sector jobs, the normal standard for dismissal is that the employer must have a "just cause." Otherwise, subject to statutory rights (particularly the discrimination prohibitions under the Civil Rights Act), most states adhere to the general principle that employer and employee may contract for the dismissal protection they choose. At-will employment remains controversial, and remains a central topic of debate in the study of law and economics, especially with regard to the macroeconomic efficiency of allowing employers to summarily and arbitrarily terminate employees.
Common law is the body of law derived from judicial decisions of courts and similar tribunals. The defining characteristic of "common law" is that it arises as precedent. In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts, and synthesizes the principles of those past cases as applicable to the current facts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, and legislative statutes are either silent or ambiguous on the question, judges have the authority and duty to resolve the issue. The court states an opinion that gives reasons for the decision, and those reasons agglomerate with past decisions as precedent to bind future judges and litigants. Common law, as the body of law made by judges, stands in contrast to and on equal footing with statutes which are adopted through the legislative process, and regulations which are promulgated by the executive branch. Stare decisis, the principle that cases should be decided according to consistent principled rules so that similar facts will yield similar results, lies at the heart of all common law systems.
An employment contract or contract of employment is a kind of contract used in labour law to attribute rights and responsibilities between parties to a bargain. The contract is between an "employee" and an "employer". It has arisen out of the old master-servant law, used before the 20th century. But generally, the contract of employment denotes a relationship of economic dependence and social subordination. In the words of the controversial labour lawyer Sir Otto Kahn-Freund,
"the relation between an employer and an isolated employee or worker is typically a relation between a bearer of power and one who is not a bearer of power. In its inception it is an act of submission, in its operation it is a condition of subordination, however much the submission and the subordination may be concealed by the indispensable figment of the legal mind known as the 'contract of employment'. The main object of labour law has been, and... will always be a countervailing force to counteract the inequality of bargaining power which is inherent and must be inherent in the employment relationship."
The Lochner era is a period in American legal history from 1897 to 1937 in which the Supreme Court of the United States is said to have made it a common practice "to strike down economic regulations adopted by a State based on the Court's own notions of the most appropriate means for the State to implement its considered policies", by using its interpretation of substantive due process to strike down laws held to be infringing on economic liberty or private contract rights. The era takes its name from a 1905 case, Lochner v. New York. The beginning of the era is usually marked earlier, with the Court's decision in Allgeyer v. Louisiana (1897), and its end marked forty years later in the case of West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937), which overturned an earlier Lochner-era decision.
At-will employment is generally described as follows: "any hiring is presumed to be 'at will'; that is, the employer is free to discharge individuals 'for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all,' and the employee is equally free to quit, strike, or otherwise cease work."In an October 2000 decision largely reaffirming employers' rights under the at-will doctrine, the Supreme Court of California explained:
The Supreme Court of California is the highest and final court in the courts of the State of California. It resides inside the Earl Warren Building in San Francisco, overlooking Civic Center Square along with City Hall. It also holds sessions in Los Angeles and Sacramento. Its decisions are binding on all other California state courts.
[A]n employer may terminate its employees at will, for any or no reason ... the employer may act peremptorily, arbitrarily, or inconsistently, without providing specific protections such as prior warning, fair procedures, objective evaluation, or preferential reassignment ... The mere existence of an employment relationship affords no expectation, protectible [ sic ] by law, that employment will continue, or will end only on certain conditions, unless the parties have actually adopted such terms.
The Latin adverb sic inserted after a quoted word or passage indicates that the quoted matter has been transcribed or translated exactly as found in the source text, complete with any erroneous, archaic, or otherwise nonstandard spelling. It also applies to any surprising assertion, faulty reasoning, or other matter that might be likely interpreted as an error of transcription.
At-will employment disclaimers are a staple of employee handbooks in the United States. It is common for employers to define what at-will employment means, explain that an employee's at-will status cannot be changed except in a writing signed by the company president (or chief executive), and require that an employee sign an acknowledgment of his or her at-will status.However, the National Labor Relations Board has opposed as unlawful the practice of including in such disclaimers language declaring that the at-will nature of the employment cannot be changed without the written consent of senior management.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the federal government of the United States with responsibilities for enforcing U.S. labor law in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 it supervises elections for labor union representation and can investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of protected concerted activity. The NLRB is governed by a five-person board and a General Counsel, all of whom are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. Board members are appointed to five-year terms and the General Counsel is appointed to a four-year term. The General Counsel acts as a prosecutor and the Board acts as an appellate quasi-judicial body from decisions of administrative law judges.
The original common law rule for dismissal of employees according to William Blackstone envisaged that, unless another practice was agreed, employees would be deemed to be hired for a fixed term of one year.Over the 19th century, most states in the North adhered to the rule that the period by which an employee was paid (a week, a month or a year) determined the period of notice that should be given before a dismissal was effective. For instance, in 1870 in Massachusetts, Tatterson v. Suffolk Mfg Co held that an employee's term of hiring dictated the default period of notice. By contrast, in Tennessee, a court stated in 1884 that an employer should be allowed to dismiss any worker, or any number of workers, for any reason at all. An individual, or a collective agreement, according to the general doctrine of freedom of contract could always stipulate that an employee should only be dismissed for a good reason, or a "just cause," or that elected employee representatives would have a say on whether a dismissal should take effect. However, the position of the typical 19th-century worker meant that this was rare.
Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle-class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke College, Oxford in 1738. After switching to and completing a Bachelor of Civil Law degree, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, Oxford on 2 November 1743, admitted to Middle Temple, and called to the Bar there in 1746. Following a slow start to his career as a barrister, Blackstone became heavily involved in university administration, becoming accountant, treasurer and bursar on 28 November 1746 and Senior Bursar in 1750. Blackstone is considered responsible for completing the Codrington Library and Warton Building, and simplifying the complex accounting system used by the college. On 3 July 1753 he formally gave up his practice as a barrister and instead embarked on a series of lectures on English law, the first of their kind. These were massively successful, earning him a total of £453, and led to the publication of An Analysis of the Laws of England in 1756, which repeatedly sold out and was used to preface his later works.
A collective agreement, collective labour agreement (CLA) or collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is a written contract negotiated through collective bargaining for employees by one or more trade unions with the management of a company that regulates the terms and conditions of employees at work. This includes regulating the wages, benefits, and duties of the employees and the duties and responsibilities of the employer or employers and often includes rules for a dispute resolution process.
Freedom of contract is the freedom of private or public individuals and groups to form nonviolent contracts without government restrictions. This is opposed to government restrictions such as minimum- or maximum-wage laws, competition laws, economic sanctions, restrictions on price fixing, or restrictions on contracting with second-class citizens or undocumented workers. The freedom to contract is the underpinning of laissez-faire economics and is a cornerstone of free-market libertarianism. Through freedom of contract, individuals possess a general freedom to choose with whom to contract, whether to contract or not, and on which terms to contract.
The at-will practice is typically traced to a treatise published by Horace Gray Wood in 1877, called Master and Servant.Wood cited four U.S. cases as authority for his rule that when a hiring was indefinite, the burden of proof was on the servant to prove that an indefinite employment term was for one year. In Toussaint v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan, the Court noted that "Wood's rule was quickly cited as authority for another proposition." Wood, however, misinterpreted two of the cases which in fact showed that in Massachusetts and Michigan, at least, the rule was that employees should have notice before dismissal according to the periods of their contract.
In New York, the first case to adopt Wood's rule was Martin v New York Life Ins Coin 1895. Bartlett J asserted that New York law now followed Wood's treatise, which meant that an employee who received $10,000, paid in a salary over a year, could be dismissed immediately. The case did not make reference to the previous authority. Four years earlier, in 1891, Adams v Fitzpatrick had held that New York law followed the general practice of requiring notice similar to pay periods. However, subsequent New York cases continued to follow the at-will rule into the early 20th century.
Some courts saw the rule as requiring the employee to prove an express contract for a definite term in order to maintain an action based on termination of the employment.Thus was born the U.S. at-will employment rule, which allowed discharge for no reason. This rule was adopted by all U.S. states. In 1959, the first judicial exception to the at-will rule was created by one of the California Courts of Appeal. Later, in a 1980 landmark case involving ARCO, the Supreme Court of California endorsed the rule first articulated by the Court of Appeal. The resulting civil actions by employees are now known in California as Tameny actions for wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Since 1959, several common law and statutory exceptions to at-will employment have been created.
Common law protects an employee from retaliation if the employee disobeys an employer on the grounds that the employer ordered him or her to do something illegal or immoral. However, in the majority of cases, the burden of proof remains upon the discharged employee. No U.S. state but Montana has chosen to statutorily modify the employment at-will rule.In 1987, the Montana legislature passed the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA). The WDEA is unique in that, although it purports to preserve the at-will concept in employment law, it also expressly enumerates the legal bases for a wrongful discharge action. Under the WDEA, a discharge is wrongful only if: "it was in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy; the discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer's probationary period of employment; or the employer violated the express provisions of its own written personnel policy."
The doctrine of at-will employment can be overridden by an express contract or civil service statutes (in the case of government employees). As many as 34% of all U.S. employees apparently enjoy the protection of some kind of "just cause" or objectively reasonable requirement for termination that takes them out of the pure "at-will" category, including the 7.5% of unionized private-sector workers, the 0.8% of nonunion private-sector workers protected by union contracts, the 15% of nonunion private-sector workers with individual express contracts that override the at-will doctrine, and the 16% of the total workforce who enjoy civil service protections as public-sector employees.
This article needs to be updated.October 2017)(
Under the public policy exception, an employer may not fire an employee, if the termination would violate the state's public policy doctrine or a state or federal statute.
This includes retaliating against an employee for performing an action that complies with public policy (such as repeatedly warning that the employer is shipping defective airplane parts in violation of safety regulations promulgated pursuant to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958), as well as refusing to perform an action that would violate public policy. In this diagram, the pink states have the 'exception', which protects the employee.
As of October 2000 [update] , forty-two U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize public policy as an exception to the at-will rule.
The 8 states which do not have the exception are:
Thirty-six U.S. states (and the District of Columbia) also recognize an implied contract as an exception to at-will employment.Under the implied contract exception, an employer may not fire an employee "when an implied contract is formed between an employer and employee, even though no express, written instrument regarding the employment relationship exists." Proving the terms of an implied contract is often difficult, and the burden of proof is on the fired employee. Implied employment contracts are most often found when an employer's personnel policies or handbooks indicate that an employee will not be fired except for good cause or specify a process for firing. If the employer fires the employee in violation of an implied employment contract, the employer may be found liable for breach of contract.
Thirty-six U.S. states have an implied-contract exception. The fourteen states having no such exception are:
The implied-contract theory to circumvent at-will employment must be treated with caution. In 2006, the Texas Court of Civil Appeals in Matagorda County Hospital District v. Burwellheld that a provision in an employee handbook stating that dismissal may be for cause, and requiring employee records to specify the reason for termination, did not modify an employee's at-will employment. The New York Court of Appeals, that state's highest court, also rejected the implied-contract theory to circumvent employment at will. In Anthony Lobosco, Appellant v. New York Telephone Company/NYNEX, Respondent, the court restated the prevailing rule that an employee could not maintain an action for wrongful discharge where state law recognized neither the tort of wrongful discharge, nor exceptions for firings that violate public policy, and an employee's explicit employee handbook disclaimer preserved the at-will employment relationship. And in the same 2000 decision mentioned above, the Supreme Court of California held that the length of an employee's long and successful service, standing alone, is not evidence in and of itself of an implied-in-fact contract not to terminate except for cause.
Eleven US states have recognized a breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing as an exception to at-will employment.The states are:
Court interpretations of this have varied from requiring "just cause" to denial of terminations made for malicious reasons, such as terminating a long-tenured employee solely to avoid the obligation of paying the employee's accrued retirement benefits. Other court rulings have denied the exception, holding that it is too burdensome upon the court for it to have to determine an employer's true motivation for terminating an employee.
Although all U.S. states have a number of statutory protections for employees, most wrongful termination suits brought under statutory causes of action use the federal anti-discrimination statutes which prohibit firing or refusing to hire an employee because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap status. Other reasons an employer may not use to fire an at-will employee are:
Examples of federal statutes include:
The doctrine of at-will employment has been heavily criticized for its severe harshness upon employees.It has also been criticized as predicated upon flawed assumptions about the inherent distribution of power and information in the employee-employer relationship. On the other hand, conservative scholars in the field of law and economics such as Professors Richard A. Epstein and Richard Posner credit employment-at-will as a major factor underlying the strength of the U.S. economy.
At-will employment has also been identified as a reason for the success of Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur-friendly environment.
In a 2009 article surveying the academic literature from both U.S. and international sources, University of Virginia law professor J.H. Verkerke explained that "although everyone agrees that raising firing costs must necessarily deter both discharges and new hiring, predictions for all other variables depend heavily on the structure of the model and assumptions about crucial parameters."The effect of raising firing costs is generally accepted in mainstream economics (particularly neoclassical economics); for example, professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok explain in their macroeconomics textbook that employers become more reluctant to hire employees if they are uncertain about their ability to immediately fire them.
The first major empirical study on the impact of exceptions to at-will employment was published in 1992 by James N. Dertouzos and Lynn A. Karoly of the RAND Corporation,which found that recognizing tort exceptions to at-will could cause up to a 2.9% decline in aggregate employment and recognizing contract exceptions could cause an additional decline of 1.8%. According to Verkerke, the RAND paper received "considerable attention and publicity." Indeed, it was favorably cited in a 2010 book published by the libertarian Cato Institute.
However, a 2000 paper by Thomas Miles found no effect upon aggregate employment but found that adopting the implied contract exception causes use of temporary employment to rise as much as 15%.Later work by David Autor in the mid-2000s identified multiple flaws in Miles' methodology, found that the implied contract exception decreased aggregate employment 0.8 to 1.6%, and confirmed the outsourcing phenomenon identified by Miles, but also found that the tort exceptions to at-will had no statistically significant influence. Autor and colleagues later found in 2007 that the good faith exception does reduce job flows, and seems to cause labor productivity to rise but total factor productivity to drop. In other words, employers forced to find a "good faith" reason to fire an employee tend to automate operations to avoid hiring new employees, but also suffer an impact on total productivity because of the increased difficulty in discharging unproductive employees.
Other researchers have found that at-will exceptions have a negative effect on the reemployment of terminated workers who have yet to find replacement jobs, while their opponents, citing studies that say "job security has a large negative effect on employment rates," argue that hedonic regressions on at-will exceptions show large negative effects on individual welfare with regard to home values, rents, and wages
United Kingdom labour law regulates the relations between workers, employers and trade unions. People at work in the UK benefit from a minimum charter of employment rights, which are found in various Acts, Regulations, common law and equity. This includes the right to a minimum wage of £8.21 for over 25-year-olds under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. The Working Time Regulations 1998 give the right to 28 days paid holidays, breaks from work, and attempts to limit excessively long working hours. The Employment Rights Act 1996 gives the right to leave for child care, and the right to request flexible working patterns. The Pensions Act 2008 gives the right to be automatically enrolled in a basic occupational pension, whose funds must be protected according to the Pensions Act 1995.
In employment law, constructive dismissal, also called constructive discharge or constructive termination, occurs when an employee resigns as a result of the employer creating a hostile work environment. Since the resignation was not truly voluntary, it is, in effect, a termination. For example, when an employer places extraordinary and unreasonable work demands on an employee to obtain their resignation, this can constitute a constructive dismissal.
In United Kingdom law, the concept of wrongful dismissal refers exclusively to dismissal contrary to the contract of employment, which effectively means premature termination, either due to insufficient notice or lack of grounds. Although wrongful dismissal is usually associated with lack of notice sometimes it can also be caused by arbitrary dismissal where no notice was required but certain grounds were specified in the contract as being the only ones available but none existed.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 is a United States labor law, passed in response to United States Supreme Court decisions that limited the rights of employees who had sued their employers for discrimination. The Act represented the first effort since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to modify some of the basic procedural and substantive rights provided by federal law in employment discrimination cases. It provided the right to trial by jury on discrimination claims and introduced the possibility of emotional distress damages and limited the amount that a jury could award. It added provisions to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protections expanding the rights of women to sue and collect compensatory and punitive damages for sexual discrimination or harassment.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is a US labor law that forbids employment discrimination against anyone at least 40 years of age in the United States. In 1967, the bill was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The ADEA prevents age discrimination and provides equal employment opportunity under conditions that were not explicitly covered in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also applies to the standards for pensions and benefits provided by employers, and requires that information concerning the needs of older workers be provided to the general public.
A severance package is pay and benefits employees receive when they leave employment at a company unwillfully. In addition to their remaining regular pay, it may include some of the following:
Wallace v United Grain Growers Ltd1997 CanLII 332,  3 SCR 701 is a leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the area of Canadian employment law, particularly in determining damages arising from claims concerning wrongful dismissal.
Magnan v. Anaconda Industries, Inc 193 Conn. 558, 479 A.2d 781 (1984) is a US labor law case, concerning the doctrine of employment at will.
Employment practices liability is an area of United States labor law that deals with wrongful termination, sexual harassment, discrimination, invasion of privacy, false imprisonment, breach of contract, emotional distress, and wage and hour law violations. It may be categorized as a form of professional liability. Employment practices liability insurance (EPL) is sold as a type of management liability insurance, which is related to professional liability insurance.
In Bammert v. Don's Super Valu, Inc., 646 N.W.2d 365, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was faced with "a single question of first-impression: can the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine be invoked when an at-will employee is fired in retaliation for the actions of his or her non-employee spouse?" The court answered this question in the negative.
Fortunato v. Office of Stephen M. Silston, D.D.S., 856 A.2d 530 is a United States employment law case, concerning wrongful termination.
Brockmeyer v. Dun & Bradstreet 113 Wis. 2d 561, was a case in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court first identified that Wisconsin has some judicial exceptions to the employment at will doctrine.
This is an employment discrimination case brought under the ADEA. The appellant, Guy DeMarco, was released from employment prior to his eligibility for tenure at the age of forty-nine. Holy Cross High School argued that it was not subject to ADEA laws, and if it were that this case against it was in violation of the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The defendant also argued that the plaintiff failed to utilize the administrative remedies available.
Michael A. Smyth v. The Pillsbury Company, 914 F. Supp. 97 was decided on January 18, 1996 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Michael A. Smyth was a regional operations manager at the Pillsbury Company. Smyth had a company email account that he was able to access from work and home. Pillsbury, on multiple occasions, told its employees that all email communications were private, confidential, and that there was no danger of the messages being intercepted and used as grounds for discipline or termination.
Honda Canada Inc v Keays2008 SCC 39,  2 SCR 362 is a leading case of the Supreme Court of Canada that has had significant impact in Canadian employment law, in that:
In law, wrongful dismissal, also called wrongful termination or wrongful discharge, is a situation in which an employee's contract of employment has been terminated by the employer, where the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, or a statute provision or rule in employment law. Laws governing wrongful dismissal vary according to the terms of the employment contract, as well as under the laws and public policies of the jurisdiction.
Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133 (1990), is a US labor law case, concerning the scope of labor rights in the United States.