Asking employees to provide two weeks’ notice when vacating a position and using probationary periods are common practices in today’s workplace, but did you know that these tactics could void the “employment at will” rights granted by your state?
With the exception of Montana, all states allow some version of at-will employment, which dictates that a worker can be fired at any time, for any reason, and with very limited rights to fight the termination.
Douglas R. Delp, president of The Delp Group, a human resource and benefits company in Green Lane, Pa., says that too many companies chip away at their at-will rights by setting precedents (offering terminated employees a month of pay, for example), using probationary periods (which convey a heightened job security on day 90 versus day one), and including contradictory verbiage (to the effect that the contract “trumps” your at-will rights) in employment agreements.
“It’s easy to make at-will employment null and void,” says Delp, who advises remodeling firms to repeatedly mention at-will and its definition in employee handbooks and communications. Don’t offer probationary periods, Delp continues, and never promise anything in employment contracts that could be misconstrued as more authoritative than at-will.
“Avoid setting precedents that could void your at-will rights,” he says, “and remember that your actions are always more powerful than what’s in writing.”
—Bridget McCrea is a freelance writer in Dunedin, Fla.