The Employee At-Will Clause: A Corporate Crime

I love interviewing for a new job.  There is something about the process that gives me a certain thrill.  I don’t know if it’s the chance to meet new people and discuss something we have in common or the fact that I am a very personable guy, but I enjoy it.  I am bewildered by people who freeze up during interviews and can’t respond correctly to both the classic and unconventional interview questions.  For me, if you know what you’re talking about and don’t lie or mislead during the process, it should all come naturally.  Being passionate about what you do also helps.

I understand the interviewing process thoroughly.  It doesn’t change very much from interview to interview for people like me in the IT industry.  Usually it begins with a phone screen.  I appreciate this process because I don’t like wasting anyone’s time including my own.  Within five minutes on the phone, you can tell if the position is or isn’t right for you and you can decide to end the process immediately or continue with hopes of getting that job.

After a successful phone screen, you are most likely going to go through one to two face-to-face interviews.  It’s the same old game, meeting with some people who have no idea what the position is about, meeting with people you may end up elbow to elbow with, and possibly coming face to face with those that could wind up being your adversaries.  Regardless, the process always seems to take too long and is drawn out further by background checks and drug tests.

I can see the need for background checks but please, please don’t get me started on drug tests.  As long as an employee doesn’t show up for work under the influence, who really cares what he or she may do in their personal time away from the office?  Another post for another time.


Once you reach the Mecca known as the official job offer you get to sift through mounds of paperwork.  Inevitably, you’ll have to sign the employment agreement, usually consisting of trade secret declarations, the company’s rights to all you create, and no compete clauses.  The last thing outlined in the employment agreement is the employee at-will employment clause.

The at-will employment clause usually states that you are an at-will employee, where the employer has the right to terminate your employment at any time with or without cause or notice to you.  This is very clearly stated for legal reasons that are in the company’s best interest.  You sign it, happily accept the position, and you start your new job with all kinds of enthusiasm and childlike exuberance.

Good for you.

However there is one huge problem with that employee at-will clause.  It gives you, the employee, no rights.  It tells you that you are disposable, like a newspaper read on the subway or a discarded cigarette, flicked from the finger of some manager or HR person onto the sidewalk.  But when it comes to your leaving that company, they fully expect a minimum of a two-week notice.  If you give anything less, you’ve burned the bridge you worked so hard to construct at this new position you once accepted like a little kid going to MacDonald’s and getting a Happy Meal.

Why is there such a double standard?  Why can an employer cut you loose at any time with or without reason yet you’re expected to give at least two weeks notice of resignation from a position and company you’ve decided you don’t want to contribute to anymore?

I’ve worked for some IT firms that escort you out the door when you give a notice.  For security reasons, once your heart is spoken for by another company, you suddenly become a security risk.  At other companies, giving a two-week notice somehow turns you into a leper and no one wants to talk to you anymore.  You’re not included in anything, people don’t return your company email, and you’re treated like an outsider just because you’ve found some grass that is greener.  Your two-week notice ends up turning into a two-week period of sitting around doing nothing while you could have started your new job already or taken some much-needed time off.

I think it’s unfair that companies can fire you at any time yet they expect the “courtesy” of a two-week notice when you decide to leave voluntarily.  If you don’t give that “courtesy”, you have to be wary of any potential future company you might work for getting a bad reference from the company you’ve left.  What’s even worse, it is illegal for a previous company you’ve worked for to give out any information other than your salary and dates of hire and termination, but they give out more anyway.

I’ve left some jobs with a notice and some without.  Because of that I’ve had to leave some earlier jobs off of my resume in fear of backlash when it comes to references.  There are too many people who have the power to ruin your application for a job that shouldn’t have that power in the first place, which is why you’ve left several positions.  Your manager can be a complete ass, yet for some reason he can ruin your chances of getting a better position because of the position he’s in!

That doesn’t make any sense and that is why at-will employees are at-will screwed in the butt.  States should wake up and realize that where they allow at-will employment clauses in employment contracts they should also mandate an at-will employee clause that states employees aren’t required to give notice upon leaving a position.  That way the playing field gets leveled and everyone can play a fair game.

Leave a comment


  1. missdisplaced

     /  February 10, 2010

    I have left some jobs [usually the bad ones] without a two-week notice. At one ad agency, I gave notice on a Tuesday that Friday would be my last day. When I was told how unprofessional that was to only give them 3 days, I cited the At Will clause stating that the situation would be no different if they were releasing me and that was unprofessional on the part of a employer and this clause works both ways. Needless to say, they had no logical response.

    • KDawg

       /  February 10, 2010

      Hi Miss,

      Yep, I’ve seen it happen a million times. It’s an unfair double standard. This just happened to me two weeks ago, although the circumstances were a bit weird. I gave a 13 day notice to the company I was working for, and the next day I got really sick. I ended up working only seven hours of my entire notice. Today would have been my last day, but I’ve been unable to go to work since the day after giving my notice!

      I’m sure management wasn’t happy with how things turned out. I wasn’t very happy with it, either. But I am certain that it’ll cost me one day.

      Thanks for leaving your insightful comment!


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