The majority of states recognize at-will employment. Because of this, it is important to know what it means to be an at-will employee. At-will employees should also know what rights they have and understand what an at-will agreement is.
Generally, employees are presumed to be at-will employees who can be fired for any reason. However, it is possible to rebut this presumption if the employee has written documents that state the employee is not an at-will employee. An example of this is a contract of employment. Other written documents that may create a contract of employment could be written policies, handbooks, evaluations, etc. An employee should look at all the paperwork that he has signed or been given to see if any of it mentions being an at-will employee. If it does, then most likely a court will find that the employee is an at-will employee. As a general rule, most employers these days place a disclaimer or language in their handbooks and policies that state that the employment is at-will and that a contract of employment does not exist. While an employee does not have to sign an at-will agreement, the employer can refuse to hire the employee or can fire the employee if he does not sign an at-will agreement.
An at-will employee can be fired for any reason, even a bad reason, and the employer does not have to prove that the employee committed an alleged act of misconduct. The employer also does no have to have any reason to fire an at-will employee. The only exception to this is that an at-will employee cannot be fired for illegal reasons under state or federal law. For example, an employer cannot fire an at-will employee because of the employee's age, race, religion, or gender, because they complained of sexual harassment, because they filed a worker's compensation claim, or because they have engaged in protected activity, such as reporting violations to OSHA. An employment lawyer can help determine if your case falls within a protected area.
If you or someone you know is interested in more information, please contact Ms. Crossan at Bouchillon-CrossanLaw.com. Ms. Crossan specializes in employment law. Her office is located in Huntington, West Virginia.