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Employment at-will

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Updated: 4/13/2007 6:36 pm
'Employment-at-will' is a term used to describe an employment relationship in which a worker is employed at the will of an employer for an indefinite period of time rather than for a fixed term. In states that enact employment-at-will rules, both the employer and the employee have the ability to end the employment relationship at any time and for any reason. The freedom, however, for employers to fire employees at will is limited by certain federal and state laws. For example, anti-discrimination laws under the Civil Rights Act prohibit employers from using an employee's at-will status as a reason to terminate the employee on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age, or disability. Federal laws also make it unlawful for an employer to fire an employee for merely asserting his or her rights under those laws. Unfortunately, even if companies have valid, non-discriminatory reasons to fire employees, nothing can really stop disgruntled employees from filing a lawsuit for wrongful discharge. Generally, the safest way companies can legally protect themselves when firing someone is to ensure that there's a valid, nondiscriminatory business reason for the action, and that documentation exists to prove it. Employers can negate an employee's at will status by making verbal or written promises of job security in a contract. It's recommended that employers inform all employees of their at-will status at the beginning of the employment relationship. It may be necessary to document employees' acknowledgement with a signed agreement.
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