How Does At-Will Employment Affect Me?


At-will employment is when an employer can terminate an employee for any legal reason at any time without needing to provide a reason or justification. So, how does at-will employment affect me? The idea of at-will employment may feel scary. It may seem unfair that, in some states, employers can terminate your employment for any legal reason or for no reason at all without any legal repercussions. People rely on their paychecks and the prospect of being forced to go without through no fault of their own might seem frustrating. 

Although that aspect of at-will employment may seem undesirable, there is a lot more to at-will employment than your employer’s ability to fire you. In this article, you will learn the answer to the question, “How does at-will employment affect me?” You will understand the answer to the question, “What does at-will employment mean?” and how it applies in different states across the United States.


At-Will Employment

While at-will employment is a great benefit to employers, it can leave employees vulnerable. “How does at-will employment affect me?”, you might be asking. This is an important question. Both employees and employers should understand at-will employment for their own protection. You will need to understand the laws specific to your state, as at-will employment specifications vary from state to state. So, how does at-will employment affect you and what do you have to know to make sure your termination was legal? Before you get a job, understand how to answer the question, “How does at-will employment affect me?” 


What Does At-Will Employment Mean?

So, what does at-will employment mean? How do we answer the question, “How does at-will employment affect me?” As described earlier, at-will employment is the term that describes how employee-employer relationships may be altered for any legal reason. 

This relationship goes both ways in some respects. While your employer may fire you, change your salary, terminate benefits, and reduce paid time off with no notice and no real reason, you as an employee are free to leave your place of employment with no reason. It is a small consolation. 


When At-Will Employment Does Not Apply

Although businesses in at-will employment states do not technically need a reason to terminate an employee, it is in a business’s best interest to have a reasonable one as many decisions could land a business in legal trouble. A requirement for no reason does not mean that any reason will suffice. Many decisions for termination are classified as illegal. If you believe you are faced with termination due to any of the reasons described below, you are entitled to legal action for wrongful termination.



Employers can not fire people purely because they belong to a protected class. You can not be fired for your sex, race, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status, or age. Being fired for these reasons would be considered discrimination. 



You may not be terminated for your sex.  This includes gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy. 



Those 40 and older are considered a protected class. You may not be fired purely because you are considered too old. 


Public Policy Exemption

If an employer requires you to act against public policy, you refuse, and then are fired, this termination does not fall under the at-will employment doctrine. There are four categories of actions that fall under this exemption.


Committing Illegal Acts

Your employer can not fire you for refusing to break the law. For example, an employer that asks you to commit perjury can not fire you when instead choosing to tell the truth. Committing perjury is illegal and as such, you can not be fired when you choose to defy your employer.


Reporting Illegal Acts

If you report your employer or superior for breaking the law, you can not be fired for that reason. If, for example, you discover your boss is embezzling money from investors, you report them, and they get arrested, you can not then be fired for that reason. The same goes if you need to report the entire company for unethical business practices like unsafe working conditions.


Performing Acts in the Public Interest

Your employer can not fire you for completing your civic duty of attending jury duty. You can also not be fired if you choose to join the military in some capacity. 


Exercising a Statutory Right

Employees have rights. You can not be fired for exercising those rights. For example, if you are hurt on the job and file a worker’s compensation claim, you can not legally be fired for that reason.


Contracted Employees

Typically, employees under an employment contract are exempt from at-will employment for the duration of their contract. The contract will normally outline the exact reasons an employee may be fired including reasons such as good cause, misconduct, etc.


At-Will Employment States

Within the United States, most states are considered at-will employment states. The only exception is Montana. Most, but not all states, have exceptions to at-will employment. The states with no exceptions include Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Nebraska, Maine, New York, and Rhode Island. While there are at-will employment standards, you must identify the rules specific to your state.

Common exceptions in at-will employment states include:


Public Sector Employees

Employees in the public sector, the portion of the economy controlled by the government, are not typically subject to at-will employment.



Unionized positions spend a lot of time negotiating terms for things like pay, working conditions, and termination requirements. Unions give employees greater protections through collective bargaining power which can lead to an exemption from at-will employment. Employees may also not be fired for attempting to form a union. 


Need a Job?

Now that you know the answer to the question, “How does at-will employment affect me?” you can begin your job hunt. At Brightwing Talent Experts, we can help you find the right fit. Our team of experienced recruiters will match employees with the right skills, ambitions, and cultural fit to workplaces where they will thrive. We believe matching the right people to the right places of employment is the key to success. Whether you are a job seeker or an employer, we can help you. Contact Brightwing Talent Experts to get started.

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