At-will employment means that an employer can change or terminate an employment relationship with an employee at any time for any reason (as long as the reason isn’t illegal) or for no reason without incurring liability to the affected employee. Likewise, an employee can quit their job at any time for any reason or for no reason without incurring liability to the employer.
At-will employment is the default rule in U.S. labor law. Startups should understand that at-will employment is not standard practice globally. Companies that are considering hiring workforces in non-U.S. countries should consult with lawyers licensed in those countries to ensure that the company is compliant with local labor laws and practices.
Even in jurisdictions where at-will employment is the norm, companies should consult with an employment lawyer if an upcoming policy change or employee termination is potentially complicated or contentious. Employers are required to comply with a maze of labor laws and regulations, including those covering worker classification (employees vs. independent contractors), wage and hour requirements, anti-harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies, and job-protected leaves of absence, among others. A competent employment lawyer can help companies navigate this maze, implement best practices and procedures, and reduce employment-related risk.