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What does 'at-will employment' mean?

During the course of a typical day at a typical job, people may not think twice about the employment laws that protect them. But the fact is that every day, we are impacted by these laws. Every time someone is hired, promoted or fired, that decision can be affected by state and federal employment laws.

For example, most work relationships are legally defined as "at-will" in Florida. This means that, in accordance with the law, the employee and employer can change or terminate the relationship at any time without cause. This may seem simple enough to understand, but not everyone understands at-will employment and what it can mean for their rights.

People can be relieved that they are free to make employment decisions without having to justify altering employment terms, quitting or terminating an employee. But there are exceptions to at-will employment that can lead to legal disputes, including wrongful termination claims. 

Changes to work relationships cannot be made in violation of a person's rights or for illegal reasons. For instance, an employee generally is protected from being fired for reporting unlawful practices or as a result of discrimination. The exceptions to at-will employment are observed as ways to protect employees without compromising an employer's ability to make employment decisions.

Many employment decisions will not be grounds for a lawsuit. As we mention above, legal matters involving employment may not come up very often. However, when there is concern that an employer or employee's rights have been violated or are in jeopardy, it can be crucial to take action. People who have questions about their rights would be wise discuss their individual situation with an attorney familiar with Florida and federal employment laws and explore their options.

Source: National Conference of State Legislature, "The At-Will Presumption and Exceptions to the Rule," accessed on Nov. 5, 2014

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