All questions

Discontinuing employment

i Dismissal

At-will employees may generally be dismissed for any lawful reason or no reason at all. While the employment-at-will doctrine governs most employment relationships in the United States, there are many limitations on the doctrine. As mentioned above, employee handbooks and manuals can create an obligation to follow certain procedures for dismissal, which, if not followed, could give rise to a claim for breach of contract.

Oral contracts can also alter an otherwise at-will relationship. As long as the language and promises are specific enough, and there is an exchange of value within the contract, courts may uphold oral contracts that attempt to limit terminations only for good cause.

Contracts implied from the conduct of the parties can also limit the at-will doctrine. Many states look to the nature of the occupation, any prior course of dealing between the employer and employee, and any general customs within the industry to determine whether it was reasonable for an employee to think that he or she was being offered more job security than the at-will doctrine would supply.

Carefully written contracts can preclude or limit claims based on subsequent oral or implied contracts.

Union members who are subject to a CBA may only be dismissed under the terms of that CBA, and union members are virtually never employed at will. Most CBAs have a dispute or grievance mechanism, and the parties must work within that contractual framework. And most CBAs require the employer to show just cause before discharging or disciplining an employee.

ii Redundancies

Group lay-offs, plant or site closings, and reductions in force are governed by a federal law, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which requires businesses that employ 100 or more full-time employees to provide the affected employees (or their bargaining representatives) and certain state and local government entities with 60 days' written notice before: (1) any shutdown of a site, or of one or more facilities or operating units at a single site, that results in an employment loss for 50 or more employees; or (2) a large-scale lay-off in the form of an employment loss during a 30-day period (or a 90-day period for lay-offs that occur for similar reasons as part of the same process) at a single site of either 33 per cent of that site's workforce (if they number 50 or more) or a loss of 500 or more employees in total. Certain states, such as New York, have their own 'mini-WARN' laws that contain similar or more protective provisions.