What Does It Mean to Be an At-Will Employee?
At-will employment means that, absent special circumstances, an employee without an employment contract or a collective bargaining agreement that can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all. This means that you can be fired without notice, or quit without giving your employment notice. This is the law in Massachusetts. Employees are often surprised to learn that they do not have a right to their jobs, even if they are performing their job well and their employer is prospering financially. Employees often believe, incorrectly, that they can only be fired for “good cause.” This is not the case. Without an employment contract, employees are presumed to be at will. To demonstrate some extreme examples of at-will employment, an employer can fire you because you are a Yankees fan, because of the music you listen to, or because you made a post on Facebook about a party you had during non-working hours. If you are fired for these reasons, you have few rights to fight your termination. Many employees indicate on job applications, in employee policies, or in employee handbooks that employees are at-will employees. The bottom line is that unless your employer has indicated otherwise, you are considered to be an at-will employee.
There are certain exceptions, however, to the general rule that employers can fire employees for any reason and without notice. For example, Massachusetts and federal laws prohibit employers from terminating an employee for discriminatory reasons. This means an employer cannot terminate an at will employee because of his or her race, national origin, religion, disability, sex, veteran status, pregnancy, or age. Employers also cannot terminate or lay off employees for filing a workers’ compensation claim, serving on a jury, refusing to testify falsely for an employer, or enforcing safety laws on the job.
The law also protects employees from retaliation. You cannot be fired, demoted, or given reduced hours if you have complained to management that someone at work has been sexually harassing you or calling you racial slurs. Your job is also protected from a retaliatory firing if you have requested an accommodation for a physical, cognitive, or mental disability, or if you have complained that your workplace is not meeting safety codes or laws. Termination under these circumstances is illegal. Employees who are subject to wrongful termination can bring a claim against their former employer and seek damages for their financial losses and emotional distress.
If you have been terminated and would like to talk with an attorney about whether your termination was legal, please contact one of the attorneys in the Employment Law Department at Keches Law Group for a free and confidential consultation. Call our toll-free at 617-898-0808, or visit us onlinefor a free consultation.