At-will employment is a type of employment or labor law that is used to define employer-employee relationships in the United States. Put simply, at-will employment relates to an employer’s right to terminate an employee’s employment at any time, for any reason or no reason, without any liability or obligation to the employee. In contrast, an employee working under a contract is only able to be terminated under the terms of the contract, as stated in the employee-employer agreement.

Therefore, if you are an employer in Dallas, or a potential employee wanting to learn more about at-will employment, it’s important to keep the following frequently asked questions in mind:

What is the Statutory Basis of At-Will Employment?

The basis for at-will employment lies in the common law of torts, specifically in Texas. Under Texas common law, the general rule of thumb is that an employer may terminate an employee any time, for any lawful reason or no reason at all.

However, this basic concept has been refined with the implementation of various statutes and ordinances at state and local levels. For instance, in many states, employers may not terminate an employee on the basis of certain protected characteristics listed in the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the Civil Rights Act (CRA) and other related statutes. Similarly, certain American states have enacted “at-will disclaimers” which further define the circumstances in which employees may be terminated.

Are There Any Exceptions to At-Will Employment?

At-will employment is not absolute and includes certain exceptions. Generally speaking, the exceptions include termination in violation of a public policy, whereby the employee’s termination breaches a state or local law.

The exceptions also include termination in violation of a contract, meaning any agreement that states clearly that the employee may only be terminated under limited and specific circumstances, or after a period of notice. Additionally, at-will employment does not allow discrimination on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics, as mentioned above.

What is the Difference Between At-Will and Contract Employment?

At-will employment differs from contract employment in that an employee working under a contract is subject to rights and responsibilities that are determined by the contract, while an employee working at-will does not have such rights. For example, an employee working under a contract has the right to challenge a termination on the grounds that it was in breach of the contract.

Conversely, an employee working at-will may only challenge a termination on the basis of discrimination or a violation of public policy. Furthermore, a contract employee is generally protected by a statute of limitations, whereas an at-will employee is not.

What Employers are Covered by At-Will Employment?

The doctrine of at-will employment applies to all employers in the United States. However, certain exceptions may apply in certain states. For this reason, it is important to check with an experienced attorney to understand the laws and regulations specific to the state and city in which you are doing business.

At-will employment can be a difficult concept to understand, especially with the various exceptions and obligations attached. Therefore, if you are considering terminating an employee in Dallas, it is important to obtain the advice of a qualified attorney to ensure that you abide by local regulations and comply with state and federal laws.

At UpCounsel, you can find experienced business attorneys that understand the regulations and specificities of at-will employment in Dallas. Whether you need a one-time consultation or an entire freelance legal team, UpCounsel’s network of experienced attorneys will provide you with the high-quality, cost-effective legal services that you need.


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