Q. What does “at will” mean?
A. Washington is an “at will” state, meaning that an employee without a contract for employment can be terminated at any time, for any reason provided that it is not an illegal reason or a reason that amounts to pretext, or an excuse, to cover some unlawful reason behind the termination.
This at will language is often relied upon by employers when discharging employees. Often, the employee believes he or she is without recourse due to that “at will” status. If you believe you have been treated unfairly you should consult an attorney immediately. More often than not it is the at will employee who faces the greatest degree of unfair and often illegal treatment.
Employees who have a good track record regarding employment history will nearly always fare better in pursuing their rights in the courts because often the best defense to these claims is to argue that the individual was demoted, terminated, etc., for a separate and wholly lawful reason. Invariably the reason for the negative treatment offered by the employer does not implicate membership in one of the protected classes, such as age, race, national origin, gender, etc.
For example, if the employer has documentation in the employee’s file or email system that he or she was chronically tardy or missed deadlines, etc., the case becomes easier for the defense and harder for the prosecution.