Last Updated 04 Jul 2021

At Will Employment

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At will employment

Actually at will employment is alternative approach to human resource management. At will employment is called usually either hired at will or employment at will meaning that employment is “presumed to be voluntary and indefinite for both employees and employers”. Simply saying, at will employment suggests that employee has a right to quit at any time without any fair reasons. Employers have the same right of firing the employee at any time and without any fair reasons.

At will employment can become rather successful and stimulated for employees, because they feel free at their choice and they aren’t limited to eternal working at the same place. On the one hand, human resource management can benefit from this approach, though, on the other hand, turnover of staff may significantly increase if employee quit without any reasons. Furthermore, at will employment suggests that job candidate may be declined without fair reasons. For example, all states tend to “enforce at will employment to some degree”. (At-Will Employment Doctrine2005)

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In order to make employee informed that their employment is at will, employee have to sign agreements or contracts. Additionally the terms of at will employment are thoroughly documented in employee manuals. After all procedures employee is asked to sign the agreement acknowledgements meaning he has agreed, read and understood the terms. Employee manuals and similar documents are obligatory in many states as well as signed contracts between employee and employer. (Muhl 2001)

It is noted that “employers and employees may legitimately waive certain at will employment rights through contracts and agreements”. The example is collective bargaining agreement. Collective agreements outline that specific terms of being declined and discharged. Therefore at will employment is often called Doctrine of Employment at Will or Employment at Will doctrine. According employment doctrine, in case of absence of agreement the employee “may terminate employment without advanced notice or cause”. However, usually employees aren’t allowed to breach agreements and contracts as well as to violate laws and constitutional regulations when terminating at will employment. Simply saying, if employment termination is illegal, than it is exception “that renders the Employment at Will Doctrine inapplicable”. (At-Will Employment Doctrine 2005)

Possible reasons to terminate at will employment are:

  • Reduction of work force
  • Merger
  • Poor performance of company in the market
  • Changes in company’s objectives, mission or direction
  • Breach of the good faith covenant (Muhl 2001)

Promissory estoppel is one of the employment exceptions.

If an employee wants to show promissory estoppel he has to:

  • Make a clear promise of employment for a certain time period
  • Rely on a promise (foreseeable and reasonable)
  • If employee is injured s a result of promise performance (Muhl 2001)

At will employment involves also covenant of good faith.

Furthermore, public policy ensures employee’s protection against being fired by:

  • Admitting laws violation
  • Rejecting to perform the act, because it is prohibited by the law
  • Engaging policy encourages
  • Exercising statutory rights (Holley 1987)


In conclusion it is necessary to say that at will employment has certain benefits for human resource management such as increased efficiency and better performance, though limitation are apparent – increased turnover of staff. (At-Will Employment Doctrine 2005)


At-Will Employment Doctrine. (2005). Retrieved November 11, 2006, from

Holley, W. & Woletrs, R. (1987). Employment at Will: An Emerging Issue for Small Businesses. Journal of Small Business Management, 25, 4, 1-5.

Muhl, Charles. (2001). The Employment-at-Will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions. Monthly Labor Review, 124, 1, 3-8.

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