Tacoma, Washington Employment Lawyer

5224 Olympic Drive
Suite 110
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone: 253-858-6601
Fax: 253-858-6603

At-Will Employment

If you have been fired without cause, you are not alone. Most employees in the United States work for employers without an employment contract, and as such, may be fired without warning. For more information on what rights you may have under an employment contract or as an at-will employee, read below.

  1. Can my employer terminate me without a good reason?
  2. Are there any exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine?

1. Can my employer terminate me without a good reason?

It depends. If you are working under an employment contract, the terms and conditions of that contract will dictate what your employer can fire you for. If you are not under an employment contract, you are considered an at-will employee. As an at-will employee, your employer may dismiss you without reason at any time, as long as that reason isn't illegal under state or federal law. For example, your employer may not fire you because of your race or sex, or because you engaged in whistleblowing because state and federal laws protect people from discrimination and from retaliation for whistleblowing.

Additionally, as an at-will employee, without any contractual obligation to continue work, you may quit your job for any reason at any time. You cannot be forced to work for an employer and you don't have to give your employer a reason for quitting.

2. Are there any exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine?

Yes, there are several exceptions. You are not an at-will employee if you have a contract, including a union collective bargaining agreement. If you are covered under an employment contract, you can only be terminated as the contract terms and conditions permit. If the employer does not follow the contract in terminating or disciplining you, you may have a breach of contract claim and should consider speaking to an attorney.

A handbook or personnel code may also be a contract, depending on the state. However, it may be that only certain clauses or issues in the handbook or personnel code are considered part of the contract. You should consult your own state's law to determine if your state considers handbooks to be contracts between employers and employees and to what extent.

If you are a federal employee, you are always protected from any termination that violates the United States Constitution or the constitution of the state in which you work. For example, a federal employee's rights to freedom of speech, association, religion, or freedom from unlawful search and seizure may be at issue when they are terminated.

For more information about the rights of federal employees see the Federal Employees Legal Survival Guide and our Federal Employee Discrimination page.

An employee may not be terminated for an illegal reason such as their race, sex, age, religion, nationality, or disability. If you believe you were terminated for such a reason, please see our section on discrimination for additional information about the different types of illegal discrimination and how to file a discrimination claim.

Terry A. Venneberg Weekly Weekly

Topic of the Week

National Origin Discrimination

Whether an employee or job applicant's ancestry is Mexican, Russian, Filipino, Iranian, American Indian, or any other nationality, individuals are entitled to equal access to employment opportunities. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it ill

Read more...

Blog of the Week

Labor's civil war over 'Medicare for All' threatens its 2020 clout

In union-heavy primary states like California, New York, and Michigan, the fight over single-payer health care is fracturing organized labor.

Thought for the Week

"English-only workplace policies can be discriminatory and foster a hostile environment when implemented with the intent to silence foreign languages in the workplace or manufacture a reason to discipline persons who are not native English speakers. The EEOC identifies discrimination related to English-only laws as one of several ways that employees can suffer illegal discrimination or harassment based on national origin."

–Immigrants’ Employment Rights under Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws,

List of the Week

from EEOC Enforcement and Litigation Report

Enforcement and Litigation Report

  • Age and sex discrimination charges fell by 1,338 and 1,123 charges, respectively—since last fiscal year. 
  • Charges pertaining to sexual harassment allegations dipped, payouts in this area swelled from $56.6 million in FY2018 to $68.2 million in FY2019.
  • EEOC recoveries fell 4 percent overall, from $505 million in FY2018 to $486 million in FY2019.

Top Five News Headlines

  1. Employers can’t forbid romance in the workplace – but they can protect workers
  2. Target Faces Labor Organizing Effort at New Jersey Warehouse
  3. Google faces a new investigation into whether it discriminated against a pregnant employee
  4. Express Mart to Pay $25,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination
  5. The economy is roaring. So why are more workers striking?