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What is Employment At Will? Pros and Cons


New employees and job applicants are often interested to know all the details about the job application, contract to be signed, and all terms and conditions. How would you feel if you are signed as an ‘employment at will’ or ‘at will employment’

Definitely, this would leave you in trouble! The biggest one would be that you are not able to find the exact meaning of this term.

So, before I tell you about the various pros and cons of employment at will, I would like to show some light on its meaning and its related aspects.

What is Employment at Will?

Employment at will implies that an employee can be terminated from a job at any time, without any explanation and without any reason. Also, it means that an employee is free to quit the job without any reason.

This type of job does not have any contract. This type of work arrangement was introduced to offer immense flexibility to the employer. However, this form of job opportunity does not offer any job security.

There are still few places where employment at will contracts still exists. Numerous hourly and minimum wage employees work as at-will employees. In fact, if you are working only on the basis of a verbal contract with the employer, then you are deemed to work as an at-will employee.

Exceptions to Employment At Will:

Just like this job option has few pros and cons, it even has some exceptions. So, here are some exceptions to employment at will.

Employment Contracts:

One major exception to employment-at-will doctrine includes when an employee is covered under an agreement of collective bargaining. The exception may involve discrimination, violation of public policy, or if termination of policy guidelines. There might be few exceptions to state law.

Implied Contracts:

Another exception is the implied contract. When an employer and employee sign an implied contract then employers are not allowed to fire an employee, regardless of the validity of a legal document.

Usually, it is difficult to prove the validity of the document. Some of the examples of the implied contract are signing the policy book of an employer or hiring a new handbook indicating that the employees are not at-will and will be fired just because of a good cause.

Public Policy:

If an employee violates the public policy of an employer and the employer is not able to fire the employee, then this is a major exception.

In this situation, employers are restricted from seeking damages from an employee if the reason for employee actions benefits the public.

Fair Dealing and Good Faith:

This is another exception called an implied covenant of fair dealing and good faith. In such a case, employers cannot reject a person to avoid duties, like paying for retirements, commission – based work, or healthcare.

Who is an At-Will Employee? Are you one of them?

According to the law, you are an employee-at-will if you don’t have any legal contract or agreement signed with the organization.

Large numbers of employers take the pain to identify in their written agreements, applications, job evaluations, handbooks, and other employment-related documents policies for their employees’ at-will.

If presently you are employed then look through the employment documents, specifically those that you have signed. Check them to see any mention of employment-at-will.

If the agreement mentions such things then there is no more to discuss. But if you have signed an agreement that does not confirms that you are employment at –will then check for your workplace policies. The policy must not state that you can be fired at any time. Also, the policy must not mention that you can be fired for a good cause.

Contrary to this, there are some employers who have written policies mentioning the good causes of the fire. If your employer follows such policies then you can rely on them. If your employment contract promises you job security, then it is all good to go.

Now, let us know about the pros and cons of employment-at-will.

Employment at will States in USA:

The Following table shows the data for Employment at will states and Non-Employment at will states

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Pdf Documents of Employment at will in different states of USA:

  1. Employment at Will California
  2. Employment at Will Texas
  3. Employment at Will Michigan
  4. Employment at will Ohio

Pros and Cons of Employment At will: Pros of Employment At will Cons of Employment At will
1 Offers employees flexibility to search for job Slow Hiring and Fast Firing Process
2 At-Will Employment Offer Promotions on merit Basis Involves High Uncertainty To Employees
3 Employer’s Benefit Employers can Fire Employees Because of Any Reason
4 No Requirement of Negotiating Employment Contracts Legislative Actions
5 Type of Employment Involves Very fewer Issues Employees have no way to better Work Culture
6 Fear of losing jobs makes them productive Type of Employment Experiences Constantly Evolving Laws
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Pros of Employment At will:

1. It offers employees great flexibility to search for a better job:

If there are countless at-will options on the market then this will offer employees with higher chances to find better-paying jobs for them.

Employees can always begin their career with such jobs, especially when they don’t have much financial responsibility to meet. This will help the employee to improve their skills and experience. Over time they become a more skilled and marketable person.

Being an at-will employee, the employee will terminate their present employment instantly. As a result, they will be able to find a better job right away.

2. At-Will Employment Offer Promotions on the Basis of Merit:

When employees work in a contractual job then they are promoted on the basis of negotiated rules or seniority. But this is not the case with at-will employees.

At-will employees are promoted because of merits and credit of their action. It is because if an employee-at-will is performing well then, actions based on merit will encourage him and allow him to work more and in a better way.

This imparts encouragement to the workers to work efficiently every day and be more productive. It is because this will always offer them a chance to earn their way into a position, which is better paying and more rewarding.

3. Employer’s Benefit:

A major benefit of employment-at-will to the employer is that it can be beneficial for an employer who wishes to terminate the employee for performing poorly.

It is not essential for the employer to give reasons to the employee for his termination. So, if an employer suspects that the employee is not working up to the mark then he can terminate him immediately. There is no potential litigious explanation required for the termination.

4. There is No Requirement of Negotiating Employment Contracts:

Most of the contracts cover a particular time period. This time period is mainly between 2 – 5 years for most of the industries.

According to such a contract, the entire working relationship between the employees and management is based on this contract. When such contracts need renewal then a comprehensive negotiating process between two parts may take place.

With the employment-at-will process, it is possible to avoid such negotiations. Moreover, it helps the organization to focus on the productivity of the employees.

5. This type of Employment Involves Very fewer Issues:

When employees are hired on the basis of at-will employment then they tend to be more productive on almost every working day. It is because they fear to lose the job. And when it is a good paying job then they would not want to leave it anyway.

As a result, employees prefer staying away from provisions of holding out or striking because if they practice any such thing then the employer can simply terminate the employment offer. Even this eliminates the troubles that the organization may face with other departments.

Hence, if a specific group of employees creates any problem then it can be fired immediately. The fear of losing their job keeps employees away from all such problems.

Cons of Employment At Will:

1. It is a Slow Hiring and Fast Firing Process:

If there is an employee who is not able to perform up to the mark then he can be terminated instantly without any reason or cause.

Hence, this may not work in favor of the employees. Most of the times, employees may get fired because of an unauthentic reason. Also, since there is no legal contract between the employer and employee, so the employee cannot pose any case against the employer.

2. It Involves High Uncertainty To Employees:

Another main advantage of At-will employment is the uncertainty of the job.

As an employee can leave his job without any prior notice or information, similarly, the employer can fire the employee without giving any prior notice. Your employer is not bound to tell any reason or offer any justification for the termination of the employment.

Hence, sometimes the employees have to leave their job even when they don’t have any backup job with them.

3. Employers can Fire Employees Because of Any Reason:

In most of the at-will arrangements, employers may fire employees even for silly reasons or minor mistakes.

This type of employment involves no justification. Hence, this offers the employer the advantage that they can fire an employee as and when they want. Also, employees under such condition cannot question the employer and even have to look for other ways out to back up their career and financial inflow.

4. Legislative Actions:

The backlash of employees against the unfair terminations has made few state legislatures to offer some security measures for at-will employees.

A good example of this is the Wrongful Discharge of Montana from the Employment Act that was enacted in 2009 against the response to issues that companies were offering the at-will employment doctrine for cheating long-term employees out of vacation and pension benefits.

As per this law, a discharged employee can sue for incorrect termination where the termination is because the employee refused to violate any public policy, or the termination was for a bad cause, or the termination violated the personnel policies.

5. Employees have No Practical Way to Modify the Work Culture:

Rather than negotiating with an employer about the safety of the worker or other problems at the workplace, the best genuine way for at-will employees is to ensure that the work environment is safer for them.

The best way they find out is to quit the job. This can happen with or without penalty. But this does not imply that the employee cannot look up to other sources of income. Employees can always look for other new positions and can even leave the job right away as soon as they get a better opportunity.

6. This Type of Employment Experiences Constantly Evolving Laws:

The laws for at-will employment are regularly evolving. Things that constitutes at-will employment varies from region to region and state to state.

A thing that may be considered discrimination in one place might be legal in another region. Hence, there are no fixed laws for this type of employment. Even employment has different laws in different regions.

These laws are regularly evolving, which is a great thing. It is because the new laws may offer employees with more certainty and safety about their job.

Rights of At-Will Employees:

If you are working as at-will employees then this does not mean that you have no rights at all. There are still some rights that you can experience. In this situation, the government has offered some exceptions that I have already discussed above.

You see, there are various pros and cons of at-will employment. While it allows employees to be fired or promoted based on their merit and productivity, it even offers them with great uncertainty about the job. But the employees can always control things in their favor by working up to the employer’s expectations and surpassing the standards.

At the same time, employers have the full convenience to make decisions as per their choice and requirement. On the final note, I think that firing or hiring anyone is an important decision. Hence, the organizations must carefully consider all aspects and take a final decision on this subject.