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Make Sure Your At Will Employees Stay That Way

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You don't ever want to find your hands tied when you want to fire an employee. Employment at-will generally means that you are free to fire an employee at any time, for any reason or no reason at all; the employee is free to quit at any time. Often, employers find their hands bound by their own words — their handbooks and policy manuals call for just-cause terminations. Check that your handbook is free of these at-will-altering mistakes.


1. No disclaimer. All handbooks should contain a disclaimer that states the non-contractual nature of the handbook and reiterates employees' at-will status. Make it big and bold. Place it on the first page. Set it apart from other text. Repeat it throughout the handbook as necessary.


2. No employee acknowledgment. Every time employees receive a new or updated handbook, have them sign and return an acknowledgment form stating that they have received it. It doesn't hurt to repeat the at-will disclaimer here, too, and have employees acknowledge in writing that they understand their at-will status.


3. Probation periods. By having a "probation" period for new hires, you run the risk of sending the message that employment is more secure once the employee has passed the probation period. Use "introductory" or "orientation" period instead. And don't describe the period as a time in which the employee may be fired, because it can interpreted as the only time in which the employee may be fired. Finally, never, ever describe new hires as "probationary" and post-probationary employees as "permanent."


4. Contractual language. Don't use words like "will" or "shall" when you really mean "may." Avoid using the words "for cause" or "just cause" in discipline and termination policies.


5. No flexibility. Discipline policies should always maintain the employer's right to skip over progressive discipline steps and

jump straight to termination if circumstances warrant it.


6. Unnecessary restrictions. When you describe the types of behavior that are subject to immediate termination, make it crystal clear that the list of examples is not all-inclusive.

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