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The Truth About “At-Will” Employment

By Lane Erickson, Attorney

As I was driving to work one day I saw a bumper sticker on a car that said “At Will Employment Sucks”. Having practiced in employment law for nearly 20 years, I often have clients that misunderstand the at-will employment laws. This particular bumper sticker was a reminder of these misunderstandings.

“At-will” laws are just another way of saying that the employment of a particular person is without a contract. In Idaho an employment contract can either be in writing or oral, but in order to eliminate the at-will laws the contract must State specifically that it is for a specific period of time. This could be a 6 month, or 1 year or even 5 year period of time. It really doesn’t matter so long as that the time period is stated and is specific.

When an employee is “at-will” it means that the employer can terminate the person’s employment anytime they want, for any reason or no reason, so long as it is not for an illegal reason.

For example, if an employee came into work wearing a striped shirt and the employer did not like striped shirts, the employer could say you’re fired for wearing a striped shirt. Although this is silly, it would not be considered illegal. Under the at-will Doctrine this scenario would be fine.

However, it would be illegal if an employee was terminated for being a woman, or because of their nationality, or if they had exercised some legal right such as voting, or if they were hurt on the job and filed a worker’s compensation claim. In these instances the at-will doctrine does not save the employer. These types of employment would be illegal.

The most misunderstood part of the at-will Doctrine is that since there is no employment contract the employee is free to leave the job anytime they want. I have clients often ask me whether they are required to give two weeks notice before they quit their job. The answer is no, unless there is a written contract that requires that kind of notice. Otherwise, because the employees “at-will”, they have a right to quit the job anytime they want with or without notice to the employer.

Nearly all states, including Idaho, are at will States. The only real exception to this is Montana. In Montana a person is considered “at-will” only during a probationary period of time which can be up to six months. After that the employer can only terminate the employment for good cause.

“At-will” employment may seem unfair to employees, but the reality is that “at-will” employment provides equal freedom to both the employer and the employee. If it weren’t for the “at-will” laws, employees would not be free to move to other jobs whenever they wanted to. For this reason, the “at-will” employment Doctrine is really a valuable part of employment.

Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Employment Law attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at lve@racinelaw.net. We will answer your Idaho Employment Law questions and will help you solve your Idaho Employment Law needs.

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