At-Will Phrase in Offer Letter

Q: I just received a job offer. How wonderful right? Not so wonderful. Well some of it is good. The company is great, exactly where I want to be regarding both location and industry. Compensation is good. Benefits information looks competitive! However, they have this line in there that is really bothersome to me! The sentence says that my employment is “at-will and either party can terminate your employment relationships at any time, with or without notice.” Does this mean I am going to leave my job only to be at risk for being fired at any time and on a whim? I am too afraid to ask the recruiter about this sentence!

A: I understand your concern! Most employees in the US are working in an “at-will” employment arrangement. Although the phrase may sound ominous, it common language in the world of employment experts. In lay person’s terms, it means you can leave this role at any time and yes, they (or your employer) can terminate your employment relationship at any time. Most US workers are “at-will” and not members of a union and do not have an employment contract in place. Exceptions to “at-will” employment are generally found with teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters.

I consulted Jeffrey A. Dretler, a partner with Fisher and Phillips. Dretler explains, “Even in at-will employment situations, an employer is prohibited from terminating an employee’s employment or taking other adverse action that is motivated by illegal reasons, such as the employee’s membership in a “protected class” (e.g., age, race, color, gender, disability) or because the employee engaged in some sort of protected activity, like ‘blowing the whistle’ on illegal or improper activity.”

Do not let wording concern you. When I work with clients, I often encourage this same type of language be included in their offer letters. It sounds like a competitive offer worth further consideration!

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section. Click here to read about more employment topics in The Job Doc Blog at