The Employment-At-Will Doctrine: Overview

The Employment-At-Will Doctrine allows the employer to sack or alter the terms of employment of an employee at any time without prior communication with no legal responsibility. In the same way, an employee can terminate his/her services at any instant, without consulting with the employer at no legal consequences. Although the doctrine gives room for such acts, there exist guidelines, restrictions, custom laws, and judicial exceptions that one has to keep in mind to avert incidences of breach of contract and infringement of rights (At-Will Employment – Overview, n.d). On the other hand, Sarbanes-Oxley Act on corporate whistle-blowing has provisions that allow employees to reveal any wrongdoing in a company, and are still protected from service termination. In addition, the 2002 act has procedures that ensure transparency and accountability in the management of organizations, for example, the establishment of an independent internal auditor (Sarbanes-Oxley, 2005). Employees can be whistleblowers in case their firm engages in malpractices that could lead to a negative impact on the public. An example is the fall of the Enron Company that continued to give wrong auditing reports to the public to show that all was well with their operations, which was an immense contrary.

Public policy is one of the common law exceptions. Under the public policy, the employee is free to reveal any employer’s wrongful act that directly or indirectly affects the public; for instance, if the company is engaging in fraudulent accounting acts. Moreover, the employee can opt to perform an act that is in the public’s interest, such as performing jury duty. The next exception is implied contract; the employer can assure employees of permanent and lifetime jobs orally or through employees’ handbooks, practices and other written policies (At-Will Employment – Overview, n.d). In such a scenario, a contract has been created; therefore, the at-will doctrine does not apply. Lastly, good faith and fair dealings implications arise when an employer opts to terminate a worker before a payout he/she is entitled to like retirement benefits are released. Further, there is also an exception like illegal discrimination against a worker’s age, race, religious affiliation, disability, and sexual orientation. Retaliation acts such as firing an employee because of engaging in union activities or opposing unlawful acts fall under an exception to the at-will act.

In Jennifer’s first behavior, I would opt to relieve her from her duty. This, I would do through the firm’s board of directors. After graduating and even going through a few months of training, it is evident that Jennifer remains a liability to the company instead of an asset that was expected to be productive. Additionally, I will carefully review the company’s policy on hiring and firing of workers using Jennifer’s handbook. From the employment-at-will act, firing the new employee will not amount to ill motives and discrimination, as it will be pegged only on her inability to perform her rightful duties thus preventing cases of employer’s liability (Exceptions to the Employment at Will Doctrine, n.d). Since she could not learn simple basic computer applications and deliver as per the job requirement, her claims of “a good worker and genius” remain questionable. According to this case, Jennifer’s act contravenes the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealings exception; therefore, the firm is justified in firing the employee for a ‘good cause’.

The second scenario, openly, shows disrespect to the company’s lateness policy. Remarkably, this act can lead to discontent among fellow workers if not timely addressed. The fellow workers may feel isolated and view themselves as being given different treatment; consequently, leading to low productivity among them. On her act of bursting into a rage when criticized, I will advise the management to form a counseling department to help inculcate into Jennifer the ability to withstand criticism, since a good manager must accept and contend with constructive criticism. Later, she will be able to analyze the reasons for criticism and change her behavior.

On lateness, I will summon the employee to explain the reasons behind her lateness. If her reasons are not satisfactory, or she continues coming late after our discussion, I will propose her job termination. The employer, in discharging Jennifer, should ensure that the company lateness policy is well documented in the employee’s handbook to avert cases of the employer becoming liable for the action (Employer Responsibilities: A Guide to Vicarious Liability, n.d.). If not well addressed, the firm’s management method will be in doubt, given that the company operates on an equal basis. In addition, the firm’s management should inform the new employees of the lateness policy during their orientation programs. Jennifer, therefore, will be relieved from her duty because of her inability to cope with the company’s timing policy but not because of her gender or any other cause. Notably, her claim of violation of public policy does not arise, since there are no wrongful acts the company engages in. Clearly, Jennifer has gone against the administrative rules and regulations of lateness and professional code of ethics.

In the third case, there are two instances, which are Jennifer absenting herself from work to attend a religious function and agitating for the formation of a workers union during lunch hour or even during regular working hours. In addressing the first part, I will advise the management to not fire Jennifer. Although Jennifer left without the management’s consent, it is public knowledge that a religious holiday is documented in any company’s calendar and the company knows their employees’ religious affiliations. Therefore, terminating Jennifer due to this amounts to the company’s insensitivity to an employee’s religious practices, hence discrimination on religious lines (At-Will Employment – Overview, n.d). Even though the day fell on a busy tax season, the company should give priority to employees’ religious services. For that reason, Jennifer is protected by the religious discrimination exception. At this point, acts of dismissal will make the employer liable for damages on the grounds of religious discrimination, which is a public holiday, hence known by the entire public.

In the second part of this scenario, international trade organizations recognize and allow employees to form labor unions to use as a forum where they can agitate for their demands and welfare to their employers. The firm should not dismiss the graduate on this ground, even when she uses lunch hours to encourage fellow workers to form a union to protect themselves. However, using the normal working hours to persuade members to form a labor union is wrong. When she engages the colleagues during normal working hours, she, evidently, interrupts the normal work output of the company. As a result, she violates the company’s work policy and productivity. The employer is right to fire Jennifer on the grounds of using normal working hours to agitate for the formation of their union. Her job termination is due to a just cause. The employer should not dismiss her on the grounds of agitating for the formation of a labor union, as this is an exception under the employment-at-will act (Employer Responsibilities: A Guide to Vicarious Liability, n.d.). Labor unions act as a link between the employees and their employers; therefore, workers are free to form such organizations.

The last scenario shows Jennifer’s failure to follow the company’s policies and procedures. For example, when the supervisor approached her, she opted to consult her girlfriend instead of informing the management of such an occurrence. This shows a failure to follow the procedures in the firm. Likewise, she goes ahead to date her supervisor even after the management informed her of the policy that prohibits such relationships. To add to this, the company gave the graduate a handbook containing the same written policy. From the above narration, the management can dismiss Jennifer. Even though one may argue that the graduate was a junior in the affair, hence acting under duress and orders from her senior, supervisor, she ought to have informed the management the moment the supervisor started the act. Her failure to inform the management may imply that she had an interest in the whole act, even after being given a handbook (Exceptions to the Employment at Will Doctrine, n.d).

Conclusively, both the employers and employees should comprehend the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the exceptions to the employment-at-will act, thus making their justification and interpretation before a judicial system easy. In addition, both should understand their rights and obligations within the firm. On the other hand, there should be minimal changes to these acts to avoid their dilution.


At-Will Employment – Overview. (n.d.). NCSL Home. Web.

Employer Responsibilities: A Guide to Vicarious Liability. (n.d.). Australian Human Rights Commission homepage. Web.

Exceptions to the Employment at Will Doctrine | We Do Web Content. (n.d.). Web Content Services | Web Content Writers | We Do Web Content. Web.

Sarbanes-Oxley. (2005). California Employment Law – Harassment, Discrimination, Wrongful Termination, Whistleblower, Disability, Overtime, Wage, Hour, Arbitration, Severance, Disability. Web.

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LawBirdie. "The Employment-At-Will Doctrine: Overview." March 23, 2023.