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Wrongful termination and the at-will employment rule, P.2

Last time, we began looking at the topic of wrongful termination, specifically as it relates to the rule of at-will employment. As we noted, there are a number of exceptions to the rule under state and federal law. The rule can also be modified by contract as well, as often happens with executive level employees and in collective bargaining agreements.

The at-will employment rule can be modified in a number of ways. One common provision is that the employer is only able to terminate the employment relationship for cause, such as poor job performance, misconduct, or financial necessity. For some employees, contract terms may also specify the employee’s due process rights when the employer moves to terminate.

As we mentioned last time, implied contracts modifying the at-will employment rule may sometimes be recognized by the courts even when there is no express contract. This can happen, for instance, when the employer provides verbal or written assurances that the employee’s job security is not governed by the at-will rule. Employee handbooks, policies, and practices can sometimes contain language that courts will recognize that modifying the at-will employment rule. Making the case for an implied contract is not easy, though, as courts may simply recognize language as aspirational. This can happen when the employer makes disclaimers, or when state law requires the contract to be in writing.  

Whenever an employee is terminated illegally, it is important to work with an experienced attorney to have the case evaluated. Wrongful termination is not always easy to recognize, but an experienced attorney can help ensure that an employee’s legal rights are protected.