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What does at will employment mean?

What Does "At-Will Employment" Mean?

May 25, 2024


Understanding At-Will Employment

At-will employment is a term you’ll see in job contracts, but what does it really mean? Simply put, at-will employment means that either you or your employer can terminate your employment at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all), with or without notice.


Key Points to Understand:

  1. Flexibility for Both Parties:
    1. For Employers: They can let go of employees without having to provide a reason or go through lengthy procedures.
    2. For Employees: You have the freedom to leave your job whenever you choose, without needing to provide a reason.
  2. Legal Limitations:

    • Not Absolute: While at-will employment provides significant flexibility, it doesn’t mean employers can terminate employees for illegal reasons, such as discrimination based on race, gender, age, or retaliation for whistleblowing.
    • Written Contracts: If your contract specifies certain conditions under which you can be terminated, those conditions will take precedence over the general at-will employment doctrine.
  3. Job Security Concerns:

    • Lack of Stability: At-will employment can sometimes feel unsettling because of the lack of guaranteed job security. It's important to understand how your contract addresses this and what protections you might have.


Negotiating Your Contract:

Even in an at-will employment scenario, you can negotiate terms that provide you with more security. Here are a few tips:

  • Clarify Termination Conditions: Ask for specific conditions or notice periods for termination to be included in your contract. This provides more predictability and fairness.
  • Performance Reviews: Negotiate for regular performance reviews. This can give you insight into how you’re doing and early warnings if there are issues. A well established practice will have a set process in their bylaws, if they don't, they are not an established practice.
  • Severance Packages: Discuss the possibility of a severance package/tail malpractice insurance if you are terminated without cause. This can provide financial stability while you look for a new position.


At-will employment is a double-edged sword, offering both flexibility and uncertainty.  Even as an at-will employee, you have rights. If you believe you’ve been terminated for an illegal reason, there are legal avenues you can pursue. Get familiar with your rights under employment laws and consider seeking legal advice if you find yourself in a difficult situation.





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