By Lawrence P. Schaefer |
In Minnesota, as in most states, employment is presumed to be “at-will.” This means that in the absence of a common law, contract, or statutory right, an employer is free to terminate an employee “for any reason or no reason at all,” and employees are also free to resign employment with this same discretion. Unfortunately, many “at-will” employers essentially instruct their employees that this at-will status precludes legal claims arising from any termination. Nothing could be further from the truth, but terminated employees are too often dissuaded from even contacting legal counsel, convinced that the “at-will” status of their employment dooms any viable claim.
At-Will in Minnesota
I spoke yesterday at an employment law conference, instructing an audience of employment lawyers on just a sliver of the legal claims available to terminated employee. I described claims arising from common law rights, as opposed to statutory rights. In this presentation, I summarized about twenty viable legal claims in Minnesota, ranging from defamation to invasion of privacy, to contract and quasi-contract claims, which defeat the at-will presumption and can be pursued by wrongfully terminated employees. I describe this as a sliver of the available claims because my presentations didn’t address local, state and federal statutory claims (often involving discrimination or retaliation), which add literally dozens of potential claims a wrongfully terminated employee could assert to overcome “at-will” employment.
That’s why, when I discuss the difficult circumstances of employment or termination with a potential client, I generally describe the “at-will” presumption as the “swiss cheese” of legal doctrines. There are so many exceptions that they almost entirely swallow this “rule.” An experienced employment lawyer can often find viable legal claims to assert when the circumstances of the termination raise red flags.
So if you are an “at-will” employee, don’t despair, and certainly don’t accept your employer’s implication that this status exempts termination decisions from legal challenge. Consult with experienced employment law counsel, and you’ll likely understand that the at-will presumption does not apply. The experienced legal counsel at Schaefer Halleen stand ready to consult with you in that process, and our initial telephone consultation is generally at no cost to you.
Lawrence P. Schaefer has earned the respect of judges and other lawyers for his thorough and aggressive client advocacy in negotiation and litigation. He focuses exclusively on representing people who have been subject to employment discrimination at work. Larry serves as the firm’s President and head of litigation.