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“You’re Fired!”… “I Quit!”

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Louisiana is an employment-at-will state which means that, in general, either the employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason unless a law or contract exists to the contrary.

Under the “at-will” doctrine, employers may terminate an employee without having to establish “just cause” and without warning, as long as the reason is not illegal – for example, firing someone because of a protected characteristic (e.g. race, religion, sex, age, disability, military status, pregnancy or national origin) or for exercising their legal rights (reporting workplace harassment, filing a worker’s compensation claim, etc.).

Likewise, employees may resign from employment at any time and for any reason without giving notice. Policies that require employees to give advance notice before resigning and that impose a penalty such as forfeiture of accrued but unused leave have been held to compromise the at-will doctrine and may undo the employer’s legal right to terminate employment without just cause. Instead, employers may request the courtesy of two-weeks’ notice from employees planning to resign.

In order to preserve “at-will” employment status, employers should avoid:

  1. Stating that employment is for any fixed period of time
  2. Limiting the reasons for termination to a specific list of behaviors
  3. Having a progressive disciplinary process that requires each step to be followed before termination (i.e. verbal warning, written warning, final warning)
  4. Telling employees after they complete a “probationary” period they will become a “permanent” employee
  5. Promising job security (“you’ve got a job for life”)

Other ways to protect “at-will” employment status:

  1. Include an “at-will” disclaimer in the company’s employee handbook
  2. Include an “employment at-will” statement in letters of employment
  3. Have employees sign an Acknowledgement and Certification statement that includes an “at-will” disclaimer when they are hired and annually or whenever the employee handbook is updated

An HR professional can help you with all of your human resources needs, from hiring the right employees, running background checks, creating employee handbooks that include anti-harassment policies and procedures, managing employee performance, staying legally compliant, automating employee records, and anything else you need to create an environment where employees can provide the services that you need to run your business.