If you’ve had a job, you’ve likely heard or read the term “at will employment.” Employers often go to great lengths to communicate (via, employee job contracts, hand books etc.) that their employees are there “at will.” But what does that mean?
Essentially, an “at will” employee can be fired at any time, for any legal reason. If the employer decides they don’t want to employ you anymore, then they don’t have to, and you’re terminated.
When you are employed at will, the employer does not need a reason to fire you. At will employment often protects companies from being sued by disgruntled employees. The law presumes at will employment, and protects employers (in most states) unless your employer has given you a clear (e.g., written) indication that you will not be terminated unless there is good cause.
Are You an At-Will Employee?
If you have a job, you’re likely employed at will. If you want to know for sure, look through the documents you signed when you started employment. If you are not an at will employee you will have a document stating the good cause reasons acceptable for your termination. Some employees negotiate a good cause agreement as a form of protection (think: Conan O’Brian).
If you are under a contract, for example, a two year project contract, then you may not be employed at will. Your contract documents will likely state reasons that the contract can be broken (e.g., committing a crime). If the contract is terminated for any other reason beside those stated in the contract, you will have legal claim against your employer and should consult with an attorney in Utah.
Statements by Your Employer
Statements made by your employer may alter or trump the at will employment agreement, especially if the statements played a role in your motivation to take the job. Statements like, “You’ll always have a home here, if you do a good job,” can alter your at will status because the employer is leading you to believe your job is secure save it be for a good cause. In order for these statements to be legally relevant, they need to be well documented, repetitive, and it is best have a few witnesses.
If you were told more frequently that you are an at will employee than you were told other to the contrary, the court will likely presume at will employment and side with the employer. If you are questioning a specific situation, contact an attorney in Utah to clarify your personal situation.
Your Rights as an At-Will Employee
Even at-will employees, have rights. There are state and federal laws that prohibit employers from terminating employees for discrimination or harassment. You cannot be fired for complaining of illegal activity, discrimination, harassment or any below standard conditions in the workplace. You cannot be fired for exercising any legal rights. If you feel like some of your rights may have been violated in a recent termination, contact an attorney in Utah to consult.
Keep in mind that discrimination, harassment and termination related to such is very difficult to prove. Defense attorneys Utah will seek to explain your termination by any means possible while protecting their client. These cases are often quite involved, expensive and emotionally taxing.
Many employers will present all employees with an at will agreement prior to initiating employment. This agreement is signed by both parties and protects the employers right to fire employees at any time. This may be a separate document, or it may be a page out of the employee handbook.
When You Should Sign an At-Will Agreement
Technically, you do not have to sign an at-will agreement. However, most courts have ruled in favor of the employer when they refuse to hire you for doing so. Most applicants must sign an at-will agreement to secure a position in the first place.
An at-will agreement does not ensure an employer will fire you without cause. Most often, it is in the best interest of the employer to preserve relationships with employees and work through issues. It is costly to replace people and often not in the best interest of the company to have a high turn over rate.
Think Twice Before Signing an Agreement When:
Be wary of signing an at-will agreement if you relied on your employer’s promises when accepting the job. For example, if your employer said when you were hired that you will have one year to learn company’s software wherein you will not be fired during that time, then you should not sign an at-will agreement. If you sign the agreement and try to defend your rights later based on what the employer said, your rights are limited by the signed agreement.
You are within your rights to ask the employer to clarify the discrepancy in his verbal message and the at will agreement. You employer may and should be willing to put his earlier statements in writing. If you quit your job because of the broken promises, it is likely time to talk to some qualified attorney Utah.
Disgruntled employees contact us quite frequently to discuss possible claims against a former employer. While they often do not have a case, due to the presumption of at-will employment, that is not always the situation. If you believe that you have been dealt with unfairly at work, which eventually led to an employment separation, contact an attorney in Utah to learn more.
Shumway Van & Hansen houses many attorneys in Utah who practice in multiple areas of law. If you are concerned about a situation where you were treated unfairly and would like to know more about how the law protects you, reach out to a helpful associate at Shumway Van & Hansen. Contact us by phone, 801-216-8885, or visit our website, www.shumwayvan.com.