Washington Employment Law – At-Will Employment

I found this article relating to Employment Law which I thought may be of interest. So here it is for you

One of the most common questions people ask me is whether or not they are protected against being fired for no reason. Because the overwhelming majority of Washington state residents are at-will employees, the answer is usually that they are not protected, unless the reason for termination goes against a protected right of the employee. Here is some basic information about at-will employment and what it takes to be considered a wrongful termination case.

At-Will Employee- A Definition

While signing an employment agreement, most people just glance over the information, not really taking the time to decipher the information inside. For the vast majority of workers, the agreement will state that they are at-will, but what exactly does this mean? Here’s the simple definition of at-will employment: “A common-law rule that an employment contract of indefinite duration can be terminated by either the employer or the employee at any time for any reason; also known as terminable at will.” In a nut shell, an at-will employee can end their employment at any time, but can also be terminated at any time for any reason. You can easily see where problems may arise with an at-will employee as they can be terminated on a whim simply because the employer doesn’t like the employee’s hair style or their favorite sports team. Even if you do not sign an employee contract stating that you are an at-will employee, if you are not hired on a contract bases it is assumed by the state that you are at-will. Not only can at-will employees be fired at any time for any reason they can also have their hours, job description, position title and salary changed at any point in time with little notice and with little protection from the legal system.

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So How Do I Know If I Am At-Will?

Two types of employment exist in the United States: at-will employees and contract employees. The basic difference is a contract employee has a set agreement specifying the duration of employment or that the employee must have just cause for dismissal while an at-will employee does not. As mentioned earlier, most workers in the United States are at-will employees, but how do you know if you are an at-will employee. Generally speaking, if you have not signed a contract which states that you will not be fired without just cause you are assumed by the state to be an at-will employee. For most employees, the employee contract specifies which type of employee you are.

Does Being an At-Will Employee Ruin my Wrongful Termination Case?

While many people believe that being fired without any reason makes it a case of wrongful termination, it is actually much more complicated than that. In order to have a wrongful termination case, you must be fired for something that is legally protected. These protections include: discrimination, retaliation, refusing to do illegal acts, taking a protected absence from work and if the termination is in violation of a contract.

Discrimination: An employer cannot discriminate against an employee or fire them for their race, gender, age, religion, disability status, pregnancy status or, in many places, their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Retaliation: An employer cannot fire an employee as a means of retaliation for the employee exercising a right such as notifying the health department of issues within the company.

Refusing to Do Illegal Acts: An employee may not be fired for refusing to partake in illegal acts. If you refuse to violate safety, or health laws your employer is not able to fire you.

Taking a Protected Absence: An employer cannot terminate employment for an employee taking time off for military service, maternity leave or voting.

Breach of Contract: If a contract is in place, an employee cannot be fired without reason. This can be either a verbal or written contract. What Do I do If I’ve Been Wrongfully Terminated? If you have been terminated for a reason listed above, do not wait to contact an experienced wrongful termination lawyer as there is limited time for you to make your claim.

Jason Epstein is partners with Darryl Parker at the Seattle and Bellevue based employment and personal injury law firm Premier Law Group. As a Washington employment attorney, Seattle labor lawyer, and Bellevue employment lawyer, Darryl has fought for the rights of employees for over 20 years.
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