What does employment at will mean?


Employers can fire employees at any time if they have an at-will contract. Employees may also quit their jobs for any cause. With time, at-will employment has become more and more common.

If they so want, employees are free to change occupations without warning. Regardless of the law, giving two weeks’ notice is typically prudent to safeguard your reputation with potential employers.

Exceptional Cases of At-Will Employment

Employment Agreements

There may be benefits available to an employee protected by a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract that is not usually given to average at-will workers.

Implied Contracts

Whether or not a written contract is present, employers are not permitted to discharge an employee who has entered into an implied agreement with them. 

It can be challenging to demonstrate the legitimacy of such an agreement, and the employee is responsible for doing so. According to your employer’s policy book or new hire handbook, employees may only be terminated with reason.

Genuine and ethical conduct

There is another exemption, known as the implicit covenant of good faith and fair conduct.

In this situation, businesses are prohibited from letting a worker go to get out of paying for things like retirement, healthcare, or commission-based employment.

Public policy

If doing so would violate their state’s public policy exemption, employers are not permitted to terminate an employee. If an employee’s reason for leaving benefits the public, companies are not allowed to fire or demand compensation from them. 

San Diego employment law can help you to understand the laws and policies in a better way.

Employee Rights and Employment at Will

Employees have rights upon termination, even if at-will employment offers fewer worker protections than alternatives like employment under a union collective bargaining agreement. 

These include legally mandated rights covered by state and federal law, such as unemployment insurance and anti-discrimination laws.

Federal and state governments also have laws against the unfair dismissal of at-will workers. Race, religion, citizenship, retribution for engaging in legally protected activity, whistleblowing, disability, gender, age, physical condition, sexual orientation, and other elements covered by labor regulations are examples of possible motives.

Additionally, under the corporate policy, employees terminated under particular conditions may be given protections like severance pay.

Policy documentation for the company

In most companies’ employee handbooks, it is made clear that employees are subject to their will. Although not necessarily necessary, this can help to prevent more disputes. 

Other companies could require recruits to sign a declaration stating that they are at-will employees and that they understand the limitations that come with that position.

According to the legal resource Nolo.com, this may be a problem only if an employee accepts a position based on a verbal agreement that clashes and are later asked to sign an at-will employment agreement. In that case, the employee is advised to get legal advice before signing the relevant paperwork.

Does working at will mean you might be let go abruptly?

Put: not always. But it’s wise to act as though your employment may end suddenly. If you need to start looking for another work immediately, ensure your résumé, references, etc., are ready to go.

However, employers have a reputation just like any other type of business, and the majority would rather not be known for being rash or nasty. 

Therefore, many people will want to ease your transition unless they believe you’ve given them an excellent reason to do otherwise.

That could be giving you a heads-up by putting you on a performance improvement plan before termination, granting you severance following a split, or not challenging your claim for unemployment benefits.


Employers may be able to do anything, but it does not guarantee they will. Don’t worry too much, but be ready for the worst. It pays to be prepared to shift jobs quickly in today’s labor market. 

You never know when a better chance will present itself, and you may choose to take advantage of at-will employment to obtain a better position. 

You can take the assistance of San Diego employment law attorneys for a better view of at-will laws.

Also Check: Top labor & employment lawyers in san diego

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