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Precision Payroll of America, LLC
April 2013
PPA Press
by Precision Payroll of America, LLC

At-Will Employment:
Don’t blow it!

You most likely have heard of at-will employment. It is perhaps the most critical law for companies to satisfy, because it is easy to unknowingly void its protections.
At-will employment means:
  • Employees may quit their jobs at any time without notice or a reason.
  • Companies may terminate an employee similarly – at any time without notice or a reason.
At-will also allows companies to hire, fire, demote or promote any employee they choose.  Over the past 20 years, 49 states (excluding Montana) have changed their laws to “at-will” employment from “just cause” employment.

“Cause” means having a reason. And “just cause” means that the level of the company action must match the significance of the employee’s violation or misconduct.

Employment contracts guaranteeing “just cause” will override at-will, such as union contracts or employment agreements with specific employees.
Even though at-will does not require a reason for a termination, it is still recommended to document the real, specific reason that an employee was terminated. This will provide protections for unemployment claims and discrimination allegations.
If a federal or state law provides legal protection to an employee, this should also impact company decisions relating to terminations.
Heeding these important rules could save your company thousands. Our HR consulting expert is here to be your go-to resource for employment questions of all kinds. Contact Leslie Day, Director of HR Consulting at Precision Payroll, by phone 630-785-2205 or email at
Remember these basic Dos and Don’ts
of at-will employment:

  • Maintain a well-written, legally compliant employee handbook or, at minimum, have all employees sign an at-will policy statement.
  • Review any employment contracts, written agreements or verbal promises you have with individual employees to make sure it does not unintentionally void at-will.
  • Be clear and specific when giving a reason for termination. “Poor performance” is not specific enough.
  • Describe the initial employment period as “orientation” or “training” and not “probationary.”  This is only for union contracts now.
  • Eliminate old discipline forms and generate simple write-ups with words supporting at-will.
  • Don’t promise anything into the future, EVER. As an example, the courts may interpret promising a future pay raise as promising continued employment until this event.
  • Don’t fire an employee for any of the following reasons:
    • Filing a workers’ compensation claim.
    • Filing a claim for Wage & Hour, Safety & Health, or Discrimination.
    • Going to jury duty as summoned.
    • Refusing to commit perjury in a court case.
    • Contacting a governmental agency to “whistle blow” on the company or your contractors.
    • Voluntarily using any unpaid leave provided by federal law, such as family medical leave or military leave.
Have questions? Contact your payroll specialist or Leslie Day at 630-785-2205.




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