An at-will employee is one who can be terminated at any time without the employer having to give a reason. They also may or may not give notice of termination. At-will employees have very few remedies available to them unless the employer breaks a law or violates their employee rights. In fact, in every state but Montana, the law favors the employer in at-will situations and it is assumed that you are an at-will employee unless you are fortunate enough to have a contract that explicitly states you cannot be terminated without good cause.
Sometimes an employer will describe your position verbally as an at-will situation. If this is the case, or if during the hiring process a reference was made to your employment as at-will, this statement may be held as proof in legal matters that cause is not needed to terminate your employment. Conversely, if your employer made statements to the contrary that you can only be fired for good cause, or that if you perform well, your job is safe, then those statements provide legal proof that you were not in an at-will employment situation.
Employment contracts can be very complex, and you may be asked to sign several documents in addition to the one that lists your start date, salary, and benefits. These could include confidentiality agreements, non-compete agreements, arbitration agreements, exclusivity agreements, and termination agreements.
There may or may not be a description of your position as an at-will employee. Any language that says you may be terminated at any time is the same thing, but if there is no such language, you are most likely still an at-will employee, unless your contract has language to the contrary.
If during the hiring process you were offered any guarantees of employment, such as a period of one year to learn your new job without fear of being fired, then you should not sign an at-will agreement under these circumstances. It could be that the guarantee of employment was one of the reasons you took the job.
State and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability, and pregnancy status. Many state laws also include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Although you may be an at-will employee, that does not make it legal for your employer to use discriminatory practices. Doing so is grounds for a wrongful termination claim. Likewise, if you have an employment contract, even an implied one, and your employer terminates it before the date you agreed upon, then you may have a claim for breach of contract. When signing a new employment contract, it is highly advisable to do so with the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable employment lawyer.
If you believe you have been wrongfully terminated or your employer breached your contract, talk with a Pittsburgh employment lawyer at AlpernSchubert P.C. We will evaluate your case and advise you of the best legal course of action. Call 800-243-6095 today or contact us online. With offices in Pittsburgh, we handle employment law matters in Allegheny County, Lawrence County, Washington County, and throughout all Western Pennsylvania.