CNBC recently published an interesting article discussing the concept of being an “at will” employee and what legal rights employees have relating to their jobs.
Employees who are “at will,” which covers the majority of workers in the United States, do not have any specific rights to keep their job. The term “at will” literally means that the worker has the job at the will of their employer. This means that the employer can terminate the employee for any reason, or no reason at all, at the employer’s will. This also means that the employee has the legal right to quit for any reason if they wanted to.
The CNBC article points out that Montana is the only state in the U.S. which is not technically at-will, and employers there for the most part need to have a “good cause” for termination. There are, however, a set of reasons for terminating an employee that are specifically not allowed under the law:
Discrimination: Your employer cannot terminate you for being part of a protected class. They cannot terminate you based on “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), national origin, age (40 orolder), disability and genetic information (including family medical history). An employer also can’t fire you or let you go for complaining about discrimination that wasn’t directed at you.
Sexual harassment: Your employer can’t fire you or let you go for rebuffing or complaining about sexual harassment, whether it happened to you or someone else, even if that complaint turns out to be unfounded.
Whistleblowing: An employee cannot be fired in retaliation for reporting violations of a law or safety protocol in the workplace.
Additionally, there are employees who cannot be fired except “for cause” as defined by a contract of employment, either between an individual and accompany or by virtue of being part of a union and a larger labor agreement between the union and the employer.