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Employment At Will

“Employment-at-will” is a concept that many people have heard of but often confuse with something called the “right to work.” You will hear people call Georgia a “right-to-work” state when what they truly mean is that Georgia is an “employment-at will” state. The confusion is understandable and occurs in other states as well. Here is what it all means.

A “Right-to-Work” State

Simply put the phrase “right-to-work state” refers to states that secure for employees the right to decide for themselves if they wish to join or financially support a union. In a right-to-work state such as Georgia, unless you are an employee in the railway or airline industry, it is unlawful for your employer or any other person to try and force you to join a union, to financially contribute to a union or to strike. You also cannot be required to resign from or be prohibited from joining a union or from financially contributing to one. There are approximately 24 states that are “right-to-work” states.

If you are not in a “right-to-work” state, you may be required, as a condition of employment, to pay union fees. This might be a requirement if your employer has reached an agreement with a union called a collective bargaining agreement. Although you may be required to pay union fees, one advantage of the situation is that, even if you are not a member of the union and do not pay union dues (different from fees), you still have the advantages of collective bargaining agreement and union representation. You simply cannot vote or participate in internal union matters.


Employment-at-will is a concept that simply refers to the right of an employer to terminate your employment at any time or “at will” and your right to leave a job at any time or “at will” without liability. This concept has been around for a long time and was so respected in Georgia that the legislature decided to make it explicit by passing a law allowing an employment relationship to be terminated at any time, by either the employer or employee, with or without cause, and regardless of motive. There are, however, many exceptions to the law.

Some exceptions to “employment-at-will” include circumstances in which there is a written employment contract specifying a specific term or period of employment. Other exceptions include circumstances in which there has been a “tort” or wrong committed such as: fraud, defamation, negligent hiring/retention, failure to maintain a safe workplace, intentional interference with contract, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Finally, there are a number of federal anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws that provide recourse for employees in certain situations. Likewise, some states have a number of anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws. In Georgia, there are few such laws and most pertain to State or “public sector” employees. State or public sector employees may also have protection under the U.S. or State constitution.

The line that separates employment-at-will from these other laws is where the concept of “wrongful discharge begins. This overview of employment-at-will is limited by space and there are many details that could not be covered but that can be further discussed if you believe your situation crosses the line from at-will employment to a wrongful discharge. To further discuss your situation, you can call us toll free at (706) 769-4410, send us an e-mail or fill out a consultation request form and we will contact you right away.