Ways of Assuring At-Will Clarity

May 6, 2001
How should HR professionals respond to the California Supreme Court'sdecision in Guz vs. Bechtel? The consensus answer from experts: Don't getcarried away. "You still have to be careful of any language that could bean implied contract," says HR director Mary Palecki.

    Employment attorney Wendy Lazerson agrees. "Don't let your guard downjust because of Guz. Continue to make at-will status extremely clear."

    HR departments have been doing that for at least the past couple of decades,tending almost toward overkill in their use of at-will language in personnelmaterials. "People tend to think they better have a way to back [atermination] up," Lazerson notes. But the overkill may no longer benecessary.

    "You don't have to put 'at will'17 times over," says Palecki, whoalso is president-elect of the San Diego affiliate of the National HumanResources Association. "You can relax a little bit... A simple statementcan suffice."

    The California Chamber of Commerce has threesuggestions:

  • Be sure your employee handbook contains a strong statement that employmentis at will, and can be terminated at any time with or without cause, and with orwithout notice.

  • Review the rest of your company handbook to ensure it does not containpolicies which would be contrary to employment at will. Examples include aprogressive discipline policy that promises a certain number of warnings priorto termination, or a policy that requires employees to give two weeks noticeprior to leaving.

  • Inform managers and supervisors that they do not have the authority topromise job security to employees. Employees may claim a promise of job securityif they‚ have been told by their manager, "do a good job and you willalways have a job‚" or, "don't worry, we'll always find a place foryou here."

Workforce, May 2001, p. 44-- Subscribe Now!