Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) February 13, 2015 - A worker and an employer have a contract, regardless of whether a written contract has been signed.
A non-written contract exists between any given employer and employee. This agreement holds that the worker performs certain tasks and functions for the employer; in turn, the employer agrees to pay the employee for the work. Therein lies the consent that forms a contract. An employee cannot agree to a contract term that offers them fewer legal rights than they are accorded under the law.
“When people think about work contracts, many assume it is a written contract, signed when an individual begins a job,” says Chicago employment attorney, Timothy Coffey of The Coffey Law Office, PC. “While this is true in part, there is not always a written agreement signed. However, this does not mean there is not a contract in existence, because there is.”
In most states, workers are subject to the at-will doctrine, meaning an employer may terminate them at any time, without a reason and without notice. However, an employer cannot terminate a worker based on discriminatory motives, such as firing someone for being pregnant or belonging to another race. This doctrine is state law and a rule of contract law. If an employee comes under the purview of a collective bargaining agreement, it typically includes a just-cause firing clause.
If an employer wants to maintain a business that only hires and fires at-will workers, they must clearly state to the worker, repeatedly, that there is no binding contract in effect for at-will employees, and that they may be let go for any reason, or no reason, at anytime – save for the caveat on discriminatory actions as an illegal reason to terminate.
Alternatively, employers may advise new workers that they are subject to just-cause employment, and may only be terminated for just cause, which may involve violating a company policy. Just-cause preempts at-will firing, even if state law allows at-will termination without cause. “The burden of proof for the firing would fall on the employer,” says Coffey “and thus they would be called upon to justify firing a worker or disciplining them.”
Should there be a question of whether a worker is in an at-will or just-cause relationship with an employer, the courts look at an employer’s policies and staff handbooks, as well as promotions, commendations, performance evaluations, how long a worker has been employed and whether they were assured of continued employment. “If you have been terminated from your job, speak to a competent employment attorney to understand your legal rights,” suggests Coffey.
THE COFFEY LAW OFFICE, P.C.
351 W. Hubbard Street, Suite 602
Chicago, IL 60654