Employees in at will states vs. right to work states often don’t fully understand the distinctions between these two employment models. This can prevent them from understanding their legal rights when employers terminate them or take other such actions.
Workers in all industries should familiarize themselves with the differences and similarities of right to work vs. at will employment. Doing so may be key to determining if you have grounds to take legal action against a former employer.
What does at-will employment mean? Essentially, employment at-will means an employer has the right to terminate an employee for virtually any reason (as long as doing so doesn’t constitute a violation of labor laws). Unless an employment contract states otherwise, often, employment at-will is the default.
Exceptions exist, however. Implied employment contracts and public policy may influence the nature of the employment relationship.
Advantages of at-will employment include:
- Employers can reduce their workforces when necessary
- Employees have the flexibility to seek opportunities elsewhere if they so choose
- Employers can relatively easily terminate employees when their performance or conduct doesn’t meet an employer’s standards
However, at-will employment isn’t necessarily perfect. Potential disadvantages of this form of employment relationship include:
- Employees may feel they lack job security
- Employers could terminate employees arbitrarily
The main point to understand is that at-will employment doesn’t exactly mean an employer is never in the wrong when they fire a worker. Even if you had an employment at-will relationship with your employer, if you believe your employer may have broken the law when they fired you, it’s possible you have grounds to file a claim seeking compensation.
A right to work law often has less to do with at-will employment than some assume. In right to work states, employees can join unions, but they don’t have to.
For example, in a right to work state, an employee who can’t afford to pay union dues may choose to opt out. Additionally, in a right to work state, a collective bargaining agreement that guards against at-will termination could potentially apply to workers who don’t belong to the union that negotiated the agreement.
Advantages a right-to-work law may offer include:
- Allowing employees to freely choose whether they will join unions
- Increased job opportunities
Potential disadvantages of right to work states include:
- Weaker unions
- The potential for lower wages and benefits
- The potential for negative impacts on employee protections
Comparison and Contrast
When comparing at will employment vs. right to work, it helps to break the differences and similarities between the two into these categories:
- Legal frameworks and implications: Employment at will primarily addresses an employer’s freedom to terminate employees. Right to work laws address the relationship between employees and unions.
- Impact on employee rights and protections: At-will employment relationships affect an employee’s ability to take action against an employer who fires them. Right to work employment laws affect employee protections by impacting the power of collective bargaining.
- Effects on employer-employee relationships: Although at-will employment benefits employers by offering them a significant degree of flexibility, it could result in some tension in the employee-employer relationship. On the other hand, while some employees appreciate the flexibility of operating in right to work states, employers may have more power over employees in these states due to limited collective bargaining power.
Right to Work vs. At Will: Understanding the Difference
Although there is some degree of relationship between at-will employment laws and right to work laws, they impact employees and employers in different ways. However, it’s important to understand that these are complex and nuanced topics.
Regardless of your work arrangement, if you feel an employer has fired you in a way that represents a violation of labor laws, strongly consider reviewing your case with an employment law attorney. They can help you better understand your legal rights in these circumstances. Fill out the Free Case Evaluation to get connected with an independent employment law attorney who may be able to help with your case.