WHOSE WILL IS IT?

illustration of two hands shakingWhen you hear the phrase “at-will” employment, it’s only natural to think one of two things: every working relationship is “at-will” because all the parties involved chose to be there, or, I don’t actually want to work at all; give me a white sand beach and that’s where my will wants to be. Regardless of what you may think of the term, or how it may apply to you and the job you have, for Alabama employees it is important to know exactly how to classify your working situation. It can make all the difference in your rights in the workplace.

You’ve probably heard this phrase thrown around the most in the context of the government lately when the news broadcasters say an official “serves at the pleasure of the president.” Well, think of yourself, the employee, as the official and your boss, the employer, as the president. An “at-will” employee is one who works, and potentially ceases to work, at the pleasure, or discretion, of the employer. An employee can be fired for any or no reason at all.

It is presumed that this kind of working relationship exists unless there is contrary evidence, such as a contract stating other parameters regarding employment. Otherwise, you can usually find statements categorizing your employment as at-will in the application you filled out to obtain the position or in your employee handbook. It is a rare occasion that an employer leaves this relationship’s classification open to interpretation. While this description also indicates that an employee can leave his position if ever he chooses for any reason he sees fit, this distinction doesn’t immediately bring the sense of stability or empowerment that an employee imagines his employer to have in this type of relationship. The state of Alabama recognizes this relationship as fair, but for you, the employee, to feel safe in a workforce based on this dynamic, it’s important to know your rights and any exceptions that can swing the pendulum back in your favor.[1]

Exceptions exist to what is referred to in the legal community as the at-will employment doctrine. Such exceptions include termination for seeking workers’ compensation benefits, retaliation, and discrimination.[2][3] In Alabama, employers cannot fire solely because an employee seeks workers’ compensation benefits – this is a protection under the Alabama Workers’ Compensation Act.  If an employee is fired because he files a claim or an employer believes an employee will file such claim, this constitutes wrongful termination under the law and an employee is protected from this act. Likewise, if an employee is fired for retaliatory reasons, an example of which would be a termination in response to complaint of sexual harassment or an employee’s refusal to commit illegal activities at the request of the employer, he is entitled to protection again because this constitutes wrongful termination. Discrimination against age, race, gender, religion, national origin, and disability is also grounds for wrongful termination. An Alabama employee is protected by federal law if fired for such a reason.

As an employee in Alabama, it is important to know your rights in an “at-will” employment relationship and to recognize that you are not always at the mercy of the whims of your employer. Seek aid if you suspect that you lost your job by means of wrongful termination.

 

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As we have since 1967, we will continue to protect the legal rights of our clients – those who are hurt on the job while working for Alabama employers.  If you have been injured on the job and want to learn your rights, please consider contacting the Nomberg Law Firm. Our office number is 205-395-0532 and website www.NombergLaw.com. Our office is located in Birmingham, Alabama. We handle cases throughout our great State.

 

[1] Ex Parte Moulton, 116 So. 3d 1119, 1134 (Ala. 2013).

[2] Tyson Foods, Inc. v. McCollum, 881 So. 2d 976, 978 (Ala. 2003); Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consol. v. Hollander, 885 So. 2d 125, 130 (Ala. 2003); Willmore-Cochran v. Wal-Mart Associates, Inc., 919 F. Supp. 2d 1222, 1239 (N.D. Ala. 2013).


Bernard D. Nomberg has been a lawyer for more than 20 years. Bernard has earned an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell’s peer-review rating. In 2018, Bernard was named a Super Lawyer for the 6th year in a row and he was recognized as one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Alabama.

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