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On at-will employment and exemptions

In our last post, we talked about how companies don't have full freedom in firing an employee. This may seem at odds with the definition of an at-will employee. These employee relationships between the individual and the company can be ended at any time without warning, by either party. That sure sounds like firing freedom for the company, doesn't it?

However, there are limitations on how the employer can treat an at-will employee. For example, if they fire the employee in violation of a well-established public policy of the state, then the company may have engaged in wrongful termination. There is also an implied contract exemption -- where the employer and employee have a verbal agreement or an implied understanding that a contract will be signed, even though no written or official record has been signed or presented. If the employee is fired under these circumstances, it could be deemed wrongful termination.

A good faith covenant is considered by a few states in the U.S. This means that if the employer acted in "bad faith" with the employee -- such as being at odds with its own personnel policies -- then it could be considered wrongful termination.

Of course, state and federal anti-discrimination policies also apply to at-will employees. If your firing was due to discrimination, then a wrongful termination lawsuit should certainly be pursued.

Companies have a lot of power and at-will employment may seem like a paper tiger. However, there are still protections built into the law to help employees when they are wrongfully terminated.

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