Увольнение по соглашению сторон в США

Исходный текст

I. Презумпция воли

Предполагается, что трудовые отношения являются «по желанию» во всех штатах США, кроме Монтаны. США являются одной из немногих стран, где занятость преимущественно по желанию. Большинство стран мира разрешают работодателям увольнять работников только по причине. Некоторые причины, по которым мы сохранили презумпцию воли, включают уважение свободы договора, уважение работодателя и веру в то, что как работодатели, так и работники предпочитают трудовые отношения по желанию, а не гарантии занятости.

А. Определено по желанию

«По желанию» означает, что работодатель может уволить работника в любое время по любой причине, кроме незаконной или без причины, не неся юридической ответственности. Аналогичным образом, работник имеет право уволиться с работы в любое время по любой причине или без каких-либо причин без каких-либо неблагоприятных правовых последствий.

По желанию также означает, что работодатель может изменить условия трудовых отношений без предварительного уведомления и без последствий. Например, работодатель может изменить заработную плату, прекратить льготы или сократить оплачиваемый отпуск. В своей неизменной форме американское правило по желанию оставляет работников уязвимыми для произвольного и внезапного увольнения, ограниченного или рабочего графика в зависимости от потребностей работодателя и необъявленных сокращений заработной платы и льгот.

B. Модификация по контракту

Предположение по желанию является правилом по умолчанию, которое может быть изменено договором. Например, договор может предусматривать определенный срок найма или разрешать увольнение только по причине. Как правило, американские компании заключают индивидуальные трудовые договоры только с высокопоставленными сотрудниками. Коллективные договоры обычно предусматривают, что представленные работники могут быть расторгнуты только по причине.

Причина обычно включает в себя такие причины, как низкая производительность работника, неправомерное поведение работника или экономическая необходимость. В трудовом договоре могут конкретно указываться ситуации или действия сотрудников, которые могут привести к увольнению по причине.

II. Исключения из общего права к презумпции воли 

Over the years, courts have carved out exceptions to the at-will presumption to mitigate its sometimes harsh consequences.  The three major common law exceptions are public policy, implied contract, and implied covenant of good faith.

The at-will presumption is strong, however, and it can be difficult for an employee to prove that his circumstances fall within one of the exceptions.  Further, not all of the exceptions are recognized by all jurisdictions.

A.  Public Policy

Наиболее широко признанное исключение из общего права в отношении презумпции воли защищает работников от неблагоприятных действий в сфере занятости, которые нарушают общественные интересы. Это исключение общего права аналогично и может частично совпадать с исключением из ответных действий, описанным ниже. Некоторые суды отказались признать отдельное правонарушение публичной политики, если есть предусмотренные законом средства правовой защиты.  Государства, которые признают исключение из государственной политики, значительно различаются по тому, насколько широко или узко оно понимается. Большинство штатов принимают только государственную политику, выраженную в конституциях и уставах штатов. Меньшинство также допускает дополнительные источники, которые могут включать административные правила и положения, профессиональные кодексы этики и более широкие понятия общественного блага и гражданской обязанности.

The American Law Institute’s proposed Restatement (Third) of Employment Lawidentifies four categories within the public policy exception:

CategoryExample(s)
1)  Refusing to perform an act that state law prohibits.Refusing an employer’s request to commit perjury at a trial.
2)  Reporting a violation of the law.Reporting an employer’s fraudulent accounting practices or use of child labor.
3)  Engaging in acts that are in the public interest.Joining the National Guard or performing jury duty.
4)  Exercising a statutory right.Filing a claim under the state workers’ compensation law.

B. Implied Contract

Implied contracts of employment are recognized in 41 states and the District of Columbia, but even where recognized may be difficult for a plaintiff to prove.   An implied contract may be created in several different ways.  Oral assurances by a supervisor or employer representative (e.g., “We need good people around here, you’ve got a job for life!” or “We don’t dismiss employees without giving them a chance to correct their behavior.”) may give rise to an implied contract.  Likewise, the employer’s handbooks, policies, practices or other written assurances may create an implied contract.

Thus, even though there is no express written contract between the employer and an individual employee, that employee may have an expectation of  fixed term or even indefinite employment based on a supervisor’s statement, an employer’s practice of only firing employees for cause, or an assertion in the employee handbook that specific termination procedures will be followed.  The list of examples above is not exhaustive.

As a general rule, courts disregard language promising long-term, lifetime, or permanent employment as aspirational and consider the relationship to be at-will.  Employers can further protect themselves by using a clear and unambiguous disclaimer on written materials stating that its policies and procedures do not create contractual rights.  Employers can also reserve the right to modify policies and procedures at any time.

In states with a statute of frauds, the requirement that contracts of over a year be in writing creates an additional hurdle to employee claims involving oral assurances.

C.  Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

A minority of states recognize an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in employment relationships.  Judicial interpretations of this covenant have varied from requiring just cause for termination to prohibiting terminations made in bad faith or motivated by malice.

Examples of bad faith terminations include an employer firing an older employee to avoid paying retirement benefits or terminating a salesman just before a large commission on a completed sale is payable.  There have been relatively few cases in which employers were found liable under an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing theory.

D.  Additional Tort-Based Claims Limiting At-Will Employment

At-will employees may also bring claims against their employers for the following torts:

Intentional interference with a contract.  This claim may be made in the employment context when a supervisor or co-worker with an improper motive  successfully induces the employee’s dismissal.  This tort is not recognized in all jurisdictions.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The Restatement (Second) of Tortsdefines this tort as extreme and outrageous conduct that intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress.  In many courts, even serious emotional and psychological abuse may not be outrageous enough to establish liability.

E.  Promissory Estoppel

An employer could be estopped from firing an employer, or required to pay damages, if the employee can show the following:

  • The employer made a clear and unambiguous promise of employment;
  • The employee relied on this promise;
  • The employee’s reliance was reasonable and foreseeable; and
  • The employee was injured as a result.

Imagine an individual who receives and accepts a job offer, quits his current employment, and then relocates his family to the city where the new job is located.   Before his first day with the new employer, he is terminated.  An individual in this situation may have a promissory estoppel claim.

It is difficult for a plaintiff to prove all of the promissory estoppel elements, especially in an employment context.  Some courts reject outright promissory estoppel claims made by an at-will employee by contending that an employee cannot reasonably rely on a promise of employment if the employment is at-will.

In any case, promissory estoppel provides only a limited remedy in comparison to a breach of contract claim.  This is because damages are calculated based on the individual’s previous employment, and not on the promised employment.

III.  Statutory Exceptions to the At-Will Presumption

In addition to the common-law exceptions outlined above, there are also several statutory exception to the at-will employment doctrine.

A.  Illegal Discrimination

Federal and state discrimination statutes prohibit employers from basing employment decisions on an employee’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veteran status.  Specific state statutes may also protect employees from discrimination based on other factors, such as sexual orientation.

It is important to recognize that discrimination statutes shield members of protected classes only from adverse employment actions made because of their membership in a protected class.   In other words, an employer may fire Jane because she failed to perform the required functions of her job, but not because she is in a wheelchair.

1.  Protections for an Employee’s Off-Duty Activities

A few states have enacted legislation to protect employees from adverse employment actions resulting from legal off-duty activities.  In Colorado, CRS § 24-34-402.5 was originally known as the Smoker’s Rights Act, but actually protects any legal off-duty activities conducted away from the employer’s premises.  North Dakota adopted a similarly broad statute.  Legislation enacted by Indiana, New Jersey, Oregon, and South Dakota specifically prohibits employer discrimination against smokers.

There are limits even to Colorado’s expansive act.  The legislation allows employers to constrain the lawful, off-duty activities of their employees when 1) the restriction relates to bona fide occupational activity; 2) is reasonably and rationally related to the employment activities and responsibilities; or 3) is necessary to avoid an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of one.

B.  Retaliation

Retaliation is another statute-based exception to the at-will presumption.  Federal and/or state laws prohibit employers from firing employees in retaliation for engaging in legally proper, necessary, or desirable activities.  Example of protected activities include claiming minimum wage or overtime compensation, engaging in union activities, opposing unlawful discriminatory practices, filing for workers’ compensation, and «whistleblowing.»

1.  Whistleblowing

While most states provide whistleblower protection for public sector employees, protection for private sector employees is more limited.  Approximately seventeen states have enacted whistleblower statutes that protect private sector employees from adverse employment actions if they report an employer’s wrongdoing.  Please see our compilation of state whistleblower statutes for citations and summaries.

Where there is no general state statute, private employees are left with a patchwork of federal and state statutes that address a wide variety of issues including workplace health and safety, environmental protection, accounting fraud, and discrimination, that also include whistleblower protections.  The challenge for employees in these jurisdictions is to find a statute that applies to their particular circumstances.

IV.  Montana’s Good Cause Rule

The Montana Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act of 1987 (WDEA) created a cause of action for employees who believe that they were terminated without good cause.  Although similar legislation has been introduced elsewhere, Montana is so far the only state to have passed a law with such far-reaching effects.

A.  Statutory Provisions

The statute prohibits discharge for other than good cause after a designated probationary period and gives the employee the right to challenge a termination in court or before an arbitrator.  The statute also limits damages to up to four years of lost wages, including the value of fringe benefits, with interest.  See Mont. Code Ann. §§ 39-2-901 through 39-2-915.

B.  Legislative History

Beginning in 1982, the  Montana Supreme Court made a series of pro-plaintiff decisions that expanded the good faith and fair dealing exception to the at-will employment rule.  These decision created uncertainty for employers, and led them to advocate for a more consistent regime.  In essence, Montana employers were willing to trade certainty and limitations on damages for constraints on their ability to fire employees at-will.

V.  Conclusion

Although both common-law and statutory exceptions to the at-will rule exist, the presumption remains an important feature of the U.S. employment landscape.  While an employee may be able to make a variety of claims, they can be hard to prove.  In addition, not all claims are recognized in all jurisdictions and judicial interpretations of common law protections may be broadly or narrowly construed.  Thus far, Montana is the only state to have completely eliminated the at-will rule.

Additional Resources

Timothy P. Glynn, Rachel S. Arnow-Richman, and Charles A. Sullivan, Employment Law:  Private Ordering and Its Limitations (New York:  Aspen Publishers, 2007).

Charles J. Muhl, “The Employment-At-Will Doctrine:  Three Major Exceptions,” Monthly Labor Review (January 2001):  3-11.

Wayne N. Outten, “When Good Deeds Are Punished:  The Legal Landscape of Retaliation and Whistleblowing,” Litigation and Administrative Practice Course Handbook Series, PLI Order No. 11091 (New York:  Practising Law Institute, October 2007).

Glenn R. Solomon, “The Montana Wrongful Discharge From Employment Act, Twenty Years Later ,”  Glenn Solomon Blog, 2007,

Katherine V.W. Stone, “Revisiting the At-Will Employment Doctrine:  Imposed Terms, Implied Terms, and the Normative World of the Workplace,”  Industrial Law Journal (March 2007).

Keynen J. Wall, Jr. and Jacqueline Johnson, “Colorado’s Lawful Activities Statute:  Balancing Employee Privacy and the Rights of Employers,” Colorado Lawyer  (December 2006).

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