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Can my boss really fire me at any time without notice?

Since college graduation, you have been biding your time swirling lattes at the local coffee shop. Every night after work, while your friends head to the movies or the local pub, you sit down at your computer, peck away at those pesky fill-in-the-blank online applications and hope your dream job will soon rescue you from this rut. Then it happens. The technology firm in California calls, and next thing you know, you are sitting in your new apartment putting on your game face for your first day on the job. 

Sounds dreamy, does it not? The dream takes a turn toward a darker side the moment the Human Resources manager asks you to sign on the dotted line. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the company may ask you to agree to a statement that goes something like this: "I acknowledge that my employment is at will and for no specific duration. Either I or the company may terminate my employment at any time, with or without cause or prior notice. My employment-at-will status cannot be changed except in a writing signed by the president of the company."

"What? Can they really do this?" you wonder, and the short answer is yes. They can, and some do.

The SHRM elaborates. With the exception of certain employees, such as those in the public sector or in unions, most are at-will personnel employers can release at any time as long as they have a fair reason to do so. Courts do not require supervisors to prove they treated you fairly if they let you go, by the way.

If you feel that your employer did not give you a fair and honest reason for firing you, you may find the following of interest. "To preserve employment at will," which the SHRM suggests is the goal of many organizations, those companies must not give you any indication your position is long term. Instead, the leadership should make you aware of your at-will status with one or more of the following:

  • A statement like the above that you sign when they hire you
  • An at-will employment statement on job applications and in employee handbooks
  • An indication that violations of conduct may lead to termination
  • An understanding by leadership that, during your interview, they should not imply the position is permanent

If you have entered an at-will agreement with an employer, you cannot sue the company for firing you. Other grounds for suing remain, however, including harassment and discrimination.

Note this information solely intends to provide an educational resource about at-will employment and does not offer legal advice.

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