What Does At-Will Employment Mean?

A man with a question mark sign covering his face.Like the vast majority of states, Minnesota is what is referred to as an “at-will” employment state.  At-will employment means that the employee may quit their job at any time for any reason, or for no reason, as long as there is no contract stating to the contrary.  Similarly, an employer may terminate employment for almost any reason, unless there is a contradicting contract.  Although it is often the policy of certain businesses to have a procedure before firing an employee, such as a certain number of “write ups” or providing a good reason to terminate employment, this is not the state of the law in Minnesota.  There are some very limited circumstances wherein a company’s violation of its own procedures contained in an employee handbook could be considered wrongful termination, but these are highly fact specific.

However, there are some limitations to at-will employment.  An employer cannot terminate an employee because of discriminatory reasons.  An employer cannot fire an employee due to race, national origin, religion, gender, age, or disability.  Moreover, an employer cannot fire an employee for reporting potential or actual discrimination or other wrongdoing to government officials.  This is what is referred to as “whistleblowing” protection.  Moreover, an employer cannot fire an employee due to an employee filing a legitimate claim for worker’s compensation.  If any employee feels that he or she has been fired for one of these discriminatory reasons, it is up to the employee to provide proof that he or she was fired because of the discriminatory reason.

If there is a contract between the employer and employee, then the at-will employment relationship drastically changes.  If, for example, the contract provides a specific time length of employment, then the employment is no longer at-will.  This is true even if the contract has language allowing the employer or employee to terminate the contract before the end of the term specified in the contract.  Some contracts may state that there is a specific procedure that must be followed before employment may be terminated, such as a certain number of disciplinary measures.  However, the courts are divided about whether this turns the employment in at-will employment or whether this remains contract employment.

If you have questions about your rights and responsibilities with regard to at-will employment, we can answer those questions. Call us today at (651) 371-9117 for an appointment.

Categories