At-will employment is a term used to describe individuals hired to work in the United States without any contract or guarantee of job stability. This means that the employee has no guarantee of ongoing employment and is free to terminate their employment at any time without notice. In order for employers to use the at-will doctrine, it needs to be clear and undisputable that the employee was hired “at-will.” Unfortunately, many employers attempt to circumvent this by misrepresenting the true nature of an employee’s at-will employment status. If you are a Chicago-based executive looking for legal counsel to help navigate the complexities of at-will employment, you should consider the following five things first.

1. Federal and State Employer Guidelines:

Though the at-will doctrine is often used, it can be hard to support since appropriate employer guidelines must be in place. If an employer wishes to hire and train new employees on an at-will basis, they will need to inform all potentially eligible job seekers of the transient nature of their employment status. Similarly, an employer must have appropriate and well-documented policies and procedures in place that liken each employee to that of a contractor. Doing so allows employers the flexibility to terminate an employee with reasonable notice and for cause. Understanding the specific issues surrounding at-will employment in each state may be difficult to fully comprehend when considered in entirety, which is why it’s important to have experienced legal counsel who is well-versed in the regulation of at-will employment.

2. Exemptions from At-Will Employment:

Not all workers are hired as “at-will” employees; even those who are eligible for an at-will contract may be subject to exemptions. This includes employees working under an employment contract, labor union members, and those who are employed by the government. With such individuals, employers may be restricted in their ability to terminate an employee without giving reasonable notice or for cause. It should also be noted that the exemptions from at-will employment are not just limited to those three categories; rather, employers should be cognizant of the myriad of other federal and state laws that play an essential role in protecting the rights of employees. Having experienced legal counsel on board is the best way to ensure that all legal requirements have been met when determining the parameters of an at-will employment relationship.

3. Exclusions or Restrictions to the At-Will Doctrine:

Even those who are eligible for an at-will contract may be subject to exemptions and exclusions regarding their status. This includes restrictions on the types of actions an employer can take against an employee, such as those stated in the Common Law or that have been legislated through statutes. This means that an employer may be detailed when creating an at-will contract and must strive to create a fair and reasonable balance between the rights of the employee and those of the employer.

4. Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation in At-Will Employment:

The at-will doctrine is subject to numerous laws, policies, and regulations that employers must adhere to in order to ensure a safe working environment. This means that employers must understand and comply with all federal and state discrimination laws as well as any harassment and retaliation laws that exist in their state. As such, it’s important to ensure that an at-will contract clearly states that any forms of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation are expressly prohibited. Chicago-based businesses are also subject to additional laws mandating that employers are held responsible for providing a safe and secure work environment for all of its employees.

5. Employer Obligations to Terminate At-Will Employment:

The at-will doctrine is a tendency to allow employers to terminate employees at their convenience. However, employers must also be aware of their obligations when it comes to terminating an at-will contract. For instance, employers may be required to provide reasonable notice and an explanation for the termination. Additionally, employers should also strive to handle the termination in a respectful and professional manner. It’s important to note that the at-will doctrine does not protect employers from potential legal action in the event that an employee is terminated without due cause. To best protect a business from potential litigation, it’s important to have experienced legal counsel in place to help guide employers through the process.


At-Will Employment,

Legal Counsel,

Federal and State Employer Guidelines