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Employment Law - Just Cause vs. At-Will Employment

74319245What does Just Cause and At-Will Employment Mean?

In every state except for Montana, the default rule for terms and conditions of employment is the “at-will” doctrine. This means that an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or for no reason at all, and in turn, the employee can resign at any time without having to specify any reason for doing so. However, there are exceptions to this rule: it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee for a discriminatory reason, in retaliation for either opposing discrimination, or in some cases, in retaliation for complaining about illegal practices. Also note that the at-will doctrine does not always apply in cases where employees are represented by a union in the workplace and have due process procedures in their collective-bargaining agreements that have to be exhausted before termination.

Montana is the lone exception to the at-will doctrine. Here, employees are protected under the state’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act which states that employees can only be terminated for good cause. Good cause is defined as “reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of operations, or other legitimate business reasons.” However, probationary employees are still subject to the at-will doctrine. An employer cannot make the probationary period longer than six months from the date of hire. If an employer does not specifically define the length of the probationary period, Montana law provides for a default rule of six months.

One 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, New York City Mayor Bill deBlasio, is even campaigning on a pledge to end the at-will doctrine and pass the good cause rule nationwide, which would also provide for due process before termination can occur.

If you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated on any illegal basis or have any questions regarding your rights with respect to your employment, please contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. immediately to schedule a consultation.

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