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Why employers don't fire all workers at will

Our state's at-will employment rule is not unique. Michigan and nearly every other state allow employers and employees to end their working relationships with no warning and no just cause. That can be both empowering and frightening for Oakland County workers.

On one hand, employees can leave jobs they don't like at any time. The downside is companies have the option to fire most workers for any or no reason. What a Troy employer may not do is use an at-will termination to hide a reason for discharge like unlawful discrimination.

So, while at-will discharges are permitted, employers are rightfully hesitant to fire workers without a good explanation and sufficient documentation to support the decision. Companies want to eliminate the chances that former employees will take legal actions against them. Fighting a wrongful discharge claim is costly, time consuming and can damage a business's reputation.

Sometimes, employers paint themselves into a corner with company policies. It may be part of a company's culture to have a disciplinary policy giving employees a set time to improve before being fired. Employers who invoke the at-will termination option while ignoring in-house firing policies may be inviting a breach of contract allegation.

Employee terminations cannot include hidden agendas. Employers may not fire workers for abiding by public policies or refusing to do work that violates laws. At-will terminations may not be used to retaliate against whistleblowers who report unsafe or illegal business activities.

Employers who regularly terminate employees without reason can be taking a big risk. Using the at-will law to fire workers classified as protected employees under other employment laws can appear dubious, not only to terminated employees but to agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and courts as well.

Michigan employees who feel they've been unfairly dismissed can seek the advice of an employment attorney. Lawyers can assess complaints and help workers pursue job-related legal actions.

Source: Payscale.com, "How to End At-Will Employment," accessed Aug. 21, 2015

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