At-will employment is a fairly simple concept. It just means that a company and an employee have a business relationship that they can each end when they want.
You don’t need a reason to fire an employee. They don’t have to give you two-weeks notice before they quit. Either party can decide to stop working together at any time.
This may make it seem like an employee who was under these at-will labor laws could never sue you for wrongful termination, but can they do so? If you let them go, are you risking a lawsuit?
They may still claim you violated their rights
The one stipulation of at-will employment is that the firing, though it does not have to be for any specific reason, still cannot be for an illegal reason.
For instance, you cannot fire an employee because of their ethnicity or their gender. If you do this, you have still broken labor laws. At-will employment doesn’t change that.
This can lead to some confusion. Perhaps you fired an employee simply because they didn’t get along with customers or because they weren’t as productive as the other workers that you had on the floor. They may claim that you fired them because of their gender, race, national origin, disability, or something of this nature. That could still lead to a lawsuit, even if you do know that you didn’t do anything of the sort.
So what do you do next?
It’s very natural to feel surprised and concerned when something like this happens, as you never thought you did anything wrong as a business owner. Take the time to look into all of your legal options to protect yourself, your company and your future.