At-will employment explained

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2021 | Employment law

Most people in Pennsylvania likely go to their jobs every day not fearing the potential of losing their jobs. That confidence comes from the assumption that unless they give their employers a reason to fire them, they remain secure in their employment.

Indeed, that assumption often proves true, which may make it even more shocking when one loses their job for seemingly no reason. In such a situation, one might immediately assume that they have a strong case for wrongful termination. Yet that may not be the case, thanks to the at-will employment doctrine.

What is at-will employment?

This legal principle states that an employment agreement may end at any time at the will of either party. This translates to companies not necessarily needing a reason to fire an employee (essentially allowing them to terminate employees “at-will”). At first glance, this doctrine may seem to only favor employers. Yet it is this same principle that allows one to leave their job whenever they please (including scenarios that improve their careers).

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, the state subscribes to this legal doctrine.

Exceptions to at-will employment

The fact that the state employs this principle does not necessarily mean, however, that no firing may constitute an example of wrongful termination. For instance, if one has a formal contract of employment, their employer can only terminate them if they violate the terms of that agreement.

There are also certain exceptions to the at-will employment doctrine. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these include:

  • Clear violations of public policy
  • The breaking of an implied contract
  • Good faith and fair dealing violations

Cases where any of these elements exist may constitute permit one to seek damages for wrongful termination.