Employment At Will

Contact Dallas employment lawyer Rob Wiley if you have concerns about employment at will. The legal doctrine of employment “at will” applies to nearly every employee in Texas. In fact, this term appears in offer letters, employee handbooks, and all too often, in termination letters. Many employees find the doctrine of employment at-will confusing and are misled by their employers into thinking it means they have no rights in the workplace.

The Legal Basis of Employment At Will

In Texas, employment at will does not come from a statute. Rather it is part of the “common law.” The common law is a body of law that, while not written down, has applied for such a long time that it is considered to be part of the law. Courts in Texas have interpreted employment at-will to mean that an employee can be fired for any reason, or for no reason, at any time. This includes reasons that could be false, malicious, or unethical. The Texas Supreme Court has even held that statements in an employee handbook are merely aspirational and do not change the "at will" status of employment.

The doctrine of employment at-will is deeply flawed in two ways. First, it fails to account for the uneven bargaining power between employees and employers. Second, employers often use the doctrine of employment at will to try and cover up illegal activities. For example, a woman is fired shortly after telling her boss she is pregnant and is told she is an employee at will, and that she can be fired for any reason or for no reason.  In this example, even though the employee is at will pregnancy discrimination is still illegal.

Ways Around Employment At Will

As you can imagine, we spend much of our time as employment lawyers trying to get around this doctrine of employment at will. The main way is to find a law that overrides employment at will. Remember, employment at-will is part of the common law, therefore, any law passed by the Texas legislature or the federal government will override employment at will.

Many of the laws limiting employment at will are discrimination laws. For instance, although you can be fired for any reason or for no reason, you cannot be fired because of race, religion, disability, pregnancy, age, etc. Other laws apply to specific situations. For example, you can be fired for any reason or for no reason, but you cannot be fired because of complaining about workplace safety, reporting a minimum wage or overtime pay violation, or working with other employees to try and organize a union. These exceptions to employment at will exist because they were all written into various laws at the state or federal level.

The other big exception to employment at will is contract law. If an employee and an employer have a contract, this overrides employment at will. An employment lawyer can carefully review employment contracts, offer letters, and other promises to see if they rise to the level of a contract.

Alternatives to Employment At Will

There are several alternatives to employment at will.

Instead of employment at-will, you can have employment “for cause.” Under employment for cause, an employer must have just cause to terminate an employee. If an employer has fired an employee without just cause, the employer must pay the employee for harms and damages, including what the employee would have expected to have been paid for continuing to work.

Another alternative is employment “for term.” Under employment for term, an employee is employed for a specific amount of time, like one year. If an employer terminates an employee prior to the expiration of the contract term, the employer must pay out the remainder of the contract.

A common alternative that we see to employment at will is a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). A CBA is negotiated between a union and an employer and will contain many terms concerning termination, discipline, wages, and benefits. Although a CBA is an agreement between the union and the employer, it greatly curtails the ability of an employer to terminate a worker for any reason or for no reason.

Contact a Dallas Employment At Will Lawyer

The Law Office of Rob Wiley, P.C. represents employees in disputes concerning at will employment. Because of the nature of at-will employment, it can be in your best interest to speak with a Dallas employment lawyer before you are terminated or suffer adverse action. To schedule an initial consultation please contact us.