THE EMPLOYEE-AT-WILL DOCTRINE
A few key employees, such as Packer coach Mike McCarthy, have written employment contracts. Individuals who belong to certain labor unions are protected by a collective bargaining agreement. However, most employees do not fall into either category. They are Employees-at-Will.
An Employee-at-Will is someone who is free to quit his/her employment at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. Similarly, the employer may also terminate that employee for any reason, or no reason, as long as it is not illegal discrimination.
This means that employees who have satisfactorily performed their job are not protected from losing their job in most instances. This can be an extremely harsh and potentially abusive rule. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has adopted a very limited exception to the Employee-at-Will doctrine, which protects employees from losing their job in limited situations. The exception permits a terminated employee to bring a claim for wrongful discharge if the employee was terminated contrary to a fundamental and well defined public policy. What is a fundamental and well defined public policy? That is determined on a case-by-case basis, which means that two judges might differ on any given situation.
Here is an example of the same fact situation viewed differently by the different judges involved. In a 1996 case, two nursing home employees reported suspected violations to the state. The nursing home then terminated their employment. The employees sued for wrongful discharge. The local judge rejected their claim, and they appealed. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals also rejected their claim, and said the act did not constitute wrongful discharge. They appealed again, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court determined it was wrongful discharge and allowed their claim.
The bottom line is that most workers are Employees-at-Will who can be terminated by their employers at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. However, when making employment termination decisions, employers should be cautious so they do not cross the line, and terminate an employee for an improper reason. Consultation with qualified legal counsel on the front end can be very helpful to avoid an expensive wrongful discharge claim.
Menn Law Firm, Ltd. regularly advises its clients on matters concerning employment law. For further information on this topic or any other employment law issue, please contact Attorney Jim Miron at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of our attorneys may be reached at 920-731-6631 to discuss the legal services you may need.
Wisconsin's financial power of attorney law undergoes major changes in September. Learn more in next month's article titled...FINANCIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY - THE DOCUMENT
Injured at work?
When you retain Menn Law regarding an injury at work our attorneys will represent your interest in pursuing worker’s compensation benefits, such as lost wages, medical expenses, vocational rehab and temporary and/or permanent disability. If you’re hurt on the job, call us.
UPCOMING COMMUNITY EVENTS
Menn Law is proud to support many non-profit organizations in our community.
Community Clothes Closet - Being Cool for School - Aug. 21
League of Women's Voters - Appleton Women's Equality Day Luncheon - Aug. 26
Women's Fund - 10th Annual Luncheon Picture This - Sept. 9