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At Will Employment

At Will Employment Law - Employment at Will Doctrine

At will employment law is formally referred to as the Doctrine of Employment at Will or the Employment at Will Doctrine. The Doctrine was established under common law in the states. As previously indicated, all states enforce the Employment at Will Doctrine to some degree.

Payne v. Western Atlantic RR in 1884 is often cited as the court case that set the precedent for at will employment law in the states, while the 1908 case of Adair v. United States is often cited as setting the Federal precedent.

Under the Employment at Will Doctrine and in the absence of contracts or agreements that indicate otherwise, either employees or employers may terminate employment without advanced notice or cause.

However, employees and employers aren't allowed to breach employment contracts or agreements, or violate laws, regulations, constitutional provisions or public policy when terminating employment.

Did you know?Although the Employment at Will Doctrine doesn't require employees to give advanced notice of resignation, there's more to it. Read Resignation Notice for more information.

On the flip side, employers might be required to give advanced notice of plant closings and layoffs under the Federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act or equivalent state laws, that override the "no-notice" provision of the Employment at Will Doctrine.

In other words, if an employment termination is in breach of a contract or otherwise illegal, then it's an exception that renders the Employment at Will Doctrine inapplicable.

For example, if a court determines that an employer was guilty of discharging an employee for a discriminatory reason that was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, then it was an illegal discharge and thus, an exception to the Employment at Will Doctrine. Other potential exceptions are listed below. (See Wrongful Termination for more.)

See Employment at Will States for the number of states that recognize three of the exceptions noted above.

Some states require employers to at least show good cause for discharging employees under the Employment At Will Doctrine. Collective bargaining agreements or other employment contracts might also require employers to show good cause.

To inquire about your state's general stand on the Employment at Will Doctrine, start by contacting your state's labor office. Alternately or additionally, research state labor laws or consult a lawyer.

Many lawsuits have reinforced the Employment at Will Doctrine, which is how it got established under common law; but, many lawsuits have also challenged its validity. Even employees who were allegedly discharged for good cause under the Doctrine have won lawsuits against their employers, after the courts considered all factors involved.

Consult a lawyer for legal advice that fits your particular situation under your work state's at will employment law and related regulations.

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