The at will employment doctrine is one of the most important doctrines in employment law. Essentially, it states that an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. For many years, this was the law of the land without exception. Today, however, there are numerous exceptions to this doctrine, some more substantial than others.
One of the most important exceptions in Massachusetts and a few other states is what is called a breach of the “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
Putting this in layman’s terms, it essentially means that parties to a contract have a duty to deal with each other honestly and fairly during the performance of the contract. This includes contracts for employment. Note, such employment contracts do not have to be written, they can be “implied.” Almost any time an employee works for an employer, there is an implied contract that states the employee will perform a service in return for a particular wage from an employer.
This implied contract, with the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, may be breached any time the employer acts unfairly when discharging an employee. This could include discharging an employee without notice, or an employer discharging an employee because they wish to avoid a financial liability to them.
This is an extremely complex area of employment law, with many nooks and vagaries, so any time you have questions concerning the proper way to terminate an employee, you should consult an experienced employment law attorney.
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