A little while back I wrote about a waitress getting fired because Hooters decided she was too heavy to work there… part of that discussion involved a mention of “at-will” as opposed to “just cause” employment. Here is a VERY short primer as to what these terms mean, and how the laws apply to your everyday work environment.
To start with, and in the bluntest of terms, Michigan recognizes “at-will”employment, which means that you can be fired at any time, for any reason, and even for no reason at all. Wow. Talk about no job security, right? It’s a pretty scary situation, but it is the reality for more types of employment than many people realize. But the simple rule is just that… employment at the will (or even whim) of the employer…
Of course, this doesn’t make it alright to violate an employee’s civil rights… so no termination or harassment due to age, weight, gender, marital status or other discrimination. Yes, in Michigan, weight is included as a protected class.
There is, of course, another status level for employees, called “just cause” employee. Essentially, this means that you can only be terminated for a good reason, like not doing your job well, violating company policies, and so forth.
However, if an employee, who would normally be considered “at-will”, can show that she reasonably believed that the company or employer had a “just cause” termination policy, then the employee may be able to argue for “just cause” employment status with a court, and potentially win a wrongful termination lawsuit. This is true whether the employee’s belief is based on an express agreement, oral or written, or is the result of an employee’s legitimate expectations grounded in an employer’s policy statements. An employee’s legitimate expectations may be based on an employer’s written policy statements or statements contained in an employee manual. Sounds like a good reason to actually read that employee manual now, doesn’t it?
If you have any questions about this or other employment or discrimination based legal questions, do not hesitate to contact