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Detailing exceptions to at-will employment

Most working professionals in Spokane likely feel secure that as long as they fulfill the basic expectations of their employment, their employers cannot fire them. Yet that assumption may seem contrary to the philosophy of at-will employment (which the state of Washington subscribes to). Basically, if one is an at-will employee, their employer can discharge them without needing to have a legitimate reason. While this might seem to empower employers to fire workers indiscriminately, there are exceptions to the assumption of at-will employment

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, chief among these is violations of public policy. Essentially, an employer cannot fire an employee if doing see might be seen as being a violation of public interest. Examples of this may include: 

  • Firing an employee for refusing to do something that is in violation of state laws
  • Firing an employee for reporting a violation of state laws
  • Firing an employee for exercising their statutory rights 

The other common law exceptions to at-will employment are cases where an employee has either a written or implied contract with an employer. In the case of a written contract, the conditions that would allow an employer to terminate an employee must be stated, and if those conditions are not met, then the employee cannot be fired at will. In cases where statements made by an employer and/or policies that it enacts imply that an employee's situation will not be threatened if they adhere to certain standards, then that employee might argue that they have an implied contract with the employer. 

Additionally, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries states that an employee cannot be fired for filing a workplace rights or safety complaint, or an injured workers claim. 

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