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This is not legal advice, which can only be given by an attorney admitted to practice law in your jurisdiction after hearing all of the facts and circumstances in a particular case.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

"At will" employment vs. "right to work" laws: Not the same

I am often confronted with confusion between "right to work" laws and the principle of "at-will employment." People will say: "I'm not protected from discrimination because mine is a 'right to work' state."

Not so. You are protected from discrimination, whether you live in a "right to work" state or not, since every state in the Union prohibits employment discrimination of various kinds. .

However, you are subject to being fired without cause by your employer in every state in the Union, save one.

Every state in the United States, except one, is an "at-will employment" state.  That means that an employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as it is not an illegal reason, such as race or sex discrimination. The only exception is Montana, which prohibits firing an employee who has completed six months of employment unless there is cause related to their employment. See MCA § 39-2-904.

The concept of a "right to work" state is entirely different. It refers to the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. A union cannot prevent you from working for the employer, even if you decide not to join the union. The union cannot create a "closed shop" agreement with the employer, in which the employer agrees not to hire employees unless they are union members. You can see which states are "right to work" states here.

To review: In a "right to work" state you cannot be required to join a union in order to work.  Nonetheless, you are protected from discrimination by state and federal law (and sometimes municipal law).  However, with the exception of discriminatory reasons, your employer may fire you for any reason or no reason at all, except in Montana.

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