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What is at-will employment?

Like most states, Ohio is an at-will employment state. What does this mean for the relationship between employees and employers, and how does it define their rights?

Essentially, it does away with any risk of a breach of contract because you don't need employment contracts. Employers have the right to let employees go at any time. An employee could start on Monday and legally be fired on Tuesday. That doesn't breach the employee's rights.

It works the other way, too. While employers like to get two weeks of notice when a worker is leaving, employees aren't obligated by law to provide it. An employee could work one day, hate the new job and quit. This may burn bridges as far as references are concerned, and it puts the employer in a tough spot from a staffing perspective, but the law hasn't been broken.

As with most things, there are exceptions. For example, some employees will only agree to take a job if they're given a contract that adds protections -- such as guaranteeing the position for a year. Once this has been signed, the employee cannot be fired as quickly, even though Ohio is an at-will state. Likewise, some companies have internal rules and regulations that have to be followed, such as giving employees written warnings before a termination. Finally, a firing can't be done for an illegal reason, such as firing the employee based on race, age or gender.

It's very important for everyone to know their legal rights in the workplace, and that starts with fully understanding the state laws and steps that can be taken to go beyond those laws.

Source: Ohio Bar, "At-Will Employment Is the Rule in Ohio," accessed Oct. 06, 2017

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