What Is At-Will Employment?

What Is At-Will Employment

What is defined as at-will employment?

In general, employment at will means that you and your employer are allowed to terminate your employment at any time. This means that your employer may choose to fire you without any warning for any reason. It also means that you can quit your job when and if you choose. The ability of an employer to fire you for any reason is limited by state and federal anti-discrimination laws and whistleblower statutes, however. If you believe that your termination was unlawful, the employment lawyers at Swartz Swidler may be able to help.

Is your employment at will?

You are presumed to be working as an at-will employee under both state and federal law unless your employer says otherwise. An employer may explicitly state that your employment is at will by stating that in your employee handbook or contract.

You are likely working as an at-will worker if your employer uses certain phrases, including:

  • Terminated for any reason
  • Fired without cause
  • At-will work

If your employer uses language that states that you can only be fired for good or just cause, you are likely not an at-will employee.

Can at-will status be overridden?

In some cases, you may be able to override the at-will status of your employment. For example, if you have an employment contract that states you may only be fired for good cause, then the presumption will be that you are not an at-will employee. Public and government workers are not at-will workers because civil service laws mandate that the workers must be terminated for good cause only.

If your handbook says that your job is secure, your employer will only be allowed to fire you if you violate another portion of the contract or handbook. For instance, employers who contract to hire workers for set durations may not fire them before those time periods are done without having good cause to do so.

New Jersey employment-at-will

New Jersey is considered to be an employment-at-will state, but there are exceptions to the general rule. Courts in the state have recognized the existence of implied employment contracts in some cases. For example, some courts have held that employee manuals may form implied contracts if they imply that employees may only be fired for good cause. Workers in the state may also not be fired for discriminatory reasons on the basis of their protected statuses. Finally, there are numerous federal laws that prohibit firing workers who engage in certain protected activities, including whistleblowing or organizing.

Pennsylvania at-will employment

Pennsylvania is also an employment-at-will state, but there are exceptions to the general rule. Pennsylvania courts have found that the termination of workers was illegal when they have been fired for refusing to do things that are illegal, reporting illegal activities, refusing to take lie detector tests, attending jury duty, reporting for military service, filing workers’ compensation claims and others. In addition, employers in Pennsylvania may not fire people for discriminatory reasons.

What to do if you believe that you have been wrongfully terminated

If you believe that your firing was illegal or that your employment was not at-will, you might want to schedule an appointment with the attorneys at Swartz Swidler. Our lawyers can assess your case and determine whether or not you have a valid basis for a claim.