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At-Will Employment Vs. Right-To-Work

On August 7, 2018, Missouri voters rejected a right-to-work law that the former governor signed in 2017. While laws vary from state-to-state, right-to-work laws generally ban provisions in collective bargaining agreements requiring employees to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment. However, some state laws do require employees to pay certain union fees. The fee must be limited to the union's proven costs of collective bargaining activities. Right-to-work laws also cover employees with religious objections to supporting a union. Employees that choose not to join a workplace union can still be covered by union representation. Supporters of right-to-work laws argue the laws give workers the right to work without having to be part of a union. Opponents argue they invite "freeloaders" who weaken unions by reaping the benefits of representation without paying for them. Currently, over half of the states in the United States have adopted right-to-work laws.

In the majority of the United States, employment is considered to be "at-will." Currently, the only state that is not considered to be "at-will" is Montana. Employees in at-will states can be terminated for any reason, except for those covered by discrimination laws, the ADA and other employment laws. At-will also allows employees to choose to leave a job at any time, for any or no reason, without legal recourse. Employers in at-will states generally disclose its at-will policy information in its employee handbook or other workplace policies and documents. Generally, those policies state the employment is "at will" or that an employee can be fired without cause or for any reason. However, most employers choose to fire for good cause. Collective bargaining agreements and high-level employment contracts generally contain a clause that employees can only be terminated for cause. This includes poor employee performance, employee misconduct, or economic necessity.

There are, however, exceptions to the at-will presumption. One exception protects employees against adverse employment actions that violate a public interest such as refusing to perform an act that state law prohibits or reporting a violation of the law. Additionally, federal and state discrimination statutes prevent employers from making employment decisions based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or discrimination based on other factors. There are several other exceptions to the at-will presumption including implied contract, promissory estoppel, and more.

You can find out more about at-will employment by visiting the National Conference of State Legislatures website or by clicking here.

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