Employment At-Will, What Does It Actually Mean?

People here in Tennessee often have questions with regards to what being an “employee at-will” means. In simple terms, it means that an employee can be fired at any time, regardless of ii the employer has a legitimate excuse or not. However, this cuts the other way too, an employee can quit their job at any time, even if they have no specific reason for quitting.

I was recently interview on this topic and you can watch the segment here:


One catch with the employment at-will notion is if you have signed an employment contract of some kind with the employer. These are often known as a “contract for employment”, though they can be called any number of names. The idea is to legally bind you to the company and the company to you. In the cases that involve these contracts, an employer is unlikely to be able to fire you without giving you some sort of compensation.

One bit of advice that we can give you is to make sure that you read any contract that is given to you by your employer and that you are expected to sign. If you want, get an attorney to read it and walk you through everything that the contract stipulates. You have to remember that these contracts are drafted by attorneys for your employer so the contract will likely serve the employer’s interests more than yours.
With all of that said, there are some issues that being at-will cannot defend an Employer against. Based on Federal law, Employment at-will policies cannot be used by Employers in any discriminatory manner. For example, it is still illegal for Employers to fire you because of your national origin, sex, religion, color or race. Further, an employer cannot legally fire you because of your age if you are over 40 years old. Finally, another example is that a disabled person cannot be fired due to their handicap, or even the perceiving of a handicap.

As with most every law on the books, there are always little things that are or are not allowed depending on a specific situation. Always make sure to consult with friends, family and an attorney as to your situation to make sure that you are being protected and no Employer is able to take advantage of you. Contracts for employment are not things that you should take lightly. In the future, if you have prepared properly then this contract can help you. But if you did not pay attention, then it could cause some difficulties for you.

If you feel like you have been unfairly fired from your job, be sure to contact one of our Tennessee employment lawyers. At The Higgins Firm, we would be happy to answer any questions that you may have regarding your employment law problem.

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