Douglas Borthwick: Employers’ Rights Under the “At-Will” Employment Doctrine

Douglas Borthwick, an attorney at Freeman & Borthwick Law Firm, maintains active licensure to practice in all California courts. Doug Borthwick earned his legal degree at Capital University Law School in 1991.

Employment at will,” a United States common law, holds that a set of employment arrangements continues only as long as the employer and employee agree on them. Unless a legal contract specifies an alternate arrangement, the employer or employee may end the employment agreement at any time without reason or notice. Although laws prohibit certain grounds for firing, such as discrimination on the basis of gender, at-will employment usually allows an employer to dismiss any employee for almost any reason.

Since numerous labor regulations, health, safety, and civil rights laws in the United States affect the at-will employment doctrine, employers should clearly convey the conditions for employment at their companies. Some available strategies for maintaining an at-will employee/employer relationship include asking employees to sign a form stating that their employment is at will or clearly explaining the at-will policy and employment requirements in your employee handbook. Employers should also avoid using language that implies a permanent employment contract, such as “permanent employee” for workers who have outlasted a probationary period.

This article is designed for general information only. The information presented should not be construed to be either formal legal advice or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.