All questions

Discontinuing employment

i Dismissal

Most employment relationships in the United States are presumed to be 'at will', meaning an employer can dismiss an employee at any time and for any reason, provided the reason is not illegal, and an employee is likewise free to quit their employment at any time and for any reason. Therefore, an at-will employee may be dismissed without cause and, conversely, is not required to provide notice prior to quitting.

Individual employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements can alter the at-will nature of the employment relationship and impose various legal obligations, such as delineating the grounds on which an employment relationship may be terminated, requiring an employee to provide notice in advance of resigning and requiring employers to pay severance to dismissed employees. Severance pay is not required by federal law, although a few states mandate severance under certain circumstances.

Absent a contractual agreement, employees do not have rehire rights. In addition, employers are not legally required to offer suitable alternative employment to employees who have been dismissed.

ii Redundancies

Employers with 100 or more full-time employees, or 100 or more employees who work a combined minimum of 4,000 hours per week, are generally required by federal law to provide advance notice of covered plant closures and mass lay-offs. Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, employers must provide written notice at least 60 calendar days in advance of covered plant closures and mass lay-offs, to allow workers time to seek alternative jobs or to enter skills training programmes.

There are exceptions to the 60-day notice requirement under the WARN Act, including when (1) a company is faltering, (2) a plant closure or mass lay-off is caused by business circumstances that were not reasonably foreseeable at the time the 60-day notice would have been required, and (3) a plant closure or mass lay-off is the direct result of a natural disaster, in which case notice may be provided after the event.

Several states have their own lay-off notice or 'mini WARN' laws, including California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York. The City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has its own WARN Act.

In addition to federal and any applicable state or municipal law, additional notice requirements may be imposed on employers by the terms of an employment contract or, in the case of employees belonging to a labour union, a collective bargaining agreement.