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Are you an at-will employee?

In the past few posts, we’ve talked about wrongful termination, which is the exception to at-will employment.  But what exactly is at-will employment?  And how do you know if you’re employed at-will?

At-will employment means that either the employer or the employee can end the employment relationship at any time and for any legal reason.  In other words, you can be fired without cause.

Most federal employees aren’t at-will.

Employees are at-will unless there is a law or regulation or a contract that says otherwise.  For example, by law, most federal government employees are not employed at-will.  Federal agencies can only terminate these employees for certain reasons, such as misconduct, poor performance, medical inability, and reduction in force (RIF).  Federal laws and regulations give employees due process rights.  These rights include advanced written notice of the proposed removal and the opportunity to respond.  However, these rights do not apply to certain types of federal employees, such as those serving during a probationary period.

Employment contracts limit at-will employment.

Private-sector (non-government) workers don’t usually have the same rights.  But employers and employees can enter into a contract for non-at-will employment.  The contract will limit one or both parties’ ability to end the relationship.  For example, the contract may say that the employee may only be fired for gross misconduct.  Or the contract could say that the employee may only resign for non-payment of wages.  Absent a contract, however, most private-sector employees are employed “at will.”

Read your contract carefully.

If you have a contract, review it carefully.  Many clients and prospective clients tell us that they have employment contracts.  Those contracts may even state that the term of employment is for a certain period of time, such as three years.  However, another section of the contract will say that the employer can terminate for any reason.  If that’s the case, then there’s no guarantee to three years of employment.  But you still have rights.  Remember, your employer can’t fire you for an illegal reason.

We can help.

An employment attorney can help you determine if your employer violated your rights.  Alan Lescht and Associates represents federal government employees around the world, and state and government employees and private sector workers in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.  During a consultation, we will review any contracts, evaluate the facts of your case, and determine if you have any claims, such as breach of contract or wrongful termination.  Contact us today.

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