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What is “at-will” employment?

Most states have at-will employment laws. Kentucky is one of them. Business owners and employees need to know what these laws mean and how they can impact their business relationship moving forward.

Hiring and firing

The basic premise of at-will employment is that the arrangement to work together only exists for as long as both sides want it to exist. If the employee wants to quit, they’re free to do so. If the employer wants to fire them, they’re also free to do so.

One major difference between this and a contractual relationship is that cause is not typically needed. An employer doesn’t have to have a reason to fire an employee, nor does an employee have to provide a reason for quitting. Both sides are simply free to do as they please.

Protected classes

Even under this arrangement, though, there are protected classes for employees. These include things like race, gender and national origin. An employer cannot hide behind at-will employment laws to fire someone due to a protected classes — firing all African American workers due to their ethnic background, for instance, while retaining all white workers. This still constitutes discrimination, even under at-will employment laws and even when an employer isn’t under any obligation to provide an alternative reason for the firing.

Complicated cases

At-will employment sounds straightforward, and it can be, but it can also lead to some complicated situations where both sides may not agree on why a firing took place or if it was legal. Those who are involved in these disputes must understand the legal options they have.