The Employment-At-Will Policy
Under U.S. labor laws, it is generally considered that all states are employment-at-will states. This is true unless there are existing statutory laws that specifically disqualify the application of the at-will principle or provide specific exceptions on how the at-will principle should be applied within the state’s jurisdiction. Accordingly, the recognition of the employment–at-will concept was based on the premise that the employer and the employee worked on equal footing.
In the early 1900s, when labor laws were still being developed, both employer and employee were free to make their own choices of working conditions that would best benefit them.
However, employees, through their labor unions, negotiated and entered into collective bargaining agreements with their employers instead of exercising the at-will doctrine by simply leaving one’s job. Part of these agreements included the recognition of just causes and implementation of proper grievance procedures before an employee was terminated.
By the years 1960s through 1980s, it became evident that employer-employee relationships had reached a point where equal footing was no longer applicable. Employers were considered to have more economic advantage when it came to commitments and decisions about employees' working conditions. Employers simply enforced the at-will principle rather than enter into collective bargaining agreements with labor union negotiators.
Thus, federal legislative bodies came up with employee protection laws based on the modified 1964 Civil Rights Act. This provided employee protection against wrongful terminations based on acts of discrimination against race, age, sex, religion, national origin or color.
In connection to this, statutory laws that emanated from court case rulings were transformed into what are known as common laws. Such laws became enforceable, except in cases where the U.S. Supreme Court intervened and overturned a ruling, which could likewise repeal a statutory law based on court case decisions.