February 15, 2021

Is Employment At-Will At-Risk?

Employment at-will is the common law concept that an employment relationship continues only at the will of the employer and the employee.  Either party may terminate the relationship at any time, for any lawful reason or no reason, with or without notice.  Several states have some exceptions to employment at-will.  Montana may be the only state that is not an at-will state. That state has a law that requires employers to provide a non-probationary employee with written notice of the reason for discharge.

Last year, Indiana’s Supreme Court ruled that an at-will employee was not unlawfully fired in violation of public policy.  The employee asserted he was fired after giving testimony at an unemployment insurance hearing that was averse to the employer.

Last month, a Massachusetts Appeals court also ruled in favor of an employer.  That employee also asserted wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The employee was fired the same day he filed a rebuttal challenging his performance improvement plan, a right granted to him under that state’s law.

Now, the New York City Council (NYC) has taken action and is poised to abolish at-will employment for certain  employees working in the fast-food industry, effective July 4, 2021. Employers may not discharge or “substantially” reduce an employee’s hours without just cause or a bona fide economic reason.

What’s Next?  Stay tuned.  NYC has already proposed similar legislation for essential workers.  Certain civic and political organizations like MoveOn and are petitioning legislators to abolish at-will employment.

Want to Learn More?  Access FiveL Company’s January 27th archived webcast, “Employment Law Basics: Part I.” $25 per person.