At-will employment is believed by many employers to allow them the ability to terminate an employee for any reason or no-reason at all, except for a discriminatory reason. We advise our clients to make “at-will” employment status very clear in job offers and in employee handbooks. This prevents an “at-will” employee from believing a contract has been established which guarantees continued employment.
The fallacy of “at-will” employment is that if employers do terminate an employee without notifying them of the legitimate reasons for termination, the employee is free to make-up a reason. This may be in the form of a discrimination claim, sexual harassment claim, wage and hour claim etc.
Truth and honesty with employees is always the best course of action for any employer. Additionally, using good business practices which include accurate performance evaluations, coaching, counseling, fair and reasonable discipline, and providing training opportunities to employees is important. Clear communication of employee expectations is also essential for every employer, as is documenting an employee’s work record. It has been my experience that employees who have been put on notice of work expectations, been treated fairly, and given an opportunity to make necessary changes, are less likely to challenge termination decisions.
The notion of at-will employment is really deceptive. A better course of action for employers is to follow the golden rule, “Treat others, like you want to be treated yourself.” It is one way to reduce legal bills, and avoid some of the costly challenges to employment termination decisions.