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At Will Employees in New Jersey

Employees generally fall into two categories, “at will” and “for cause.” These two types of employees are very different and have different implications for employers, especially with regards to when these different types of employees can be terminated. If a business hires an employee as an “at will” employee, then the employer is able to fire the employee at any time, for any reason, except for illegal ones (like discrimination). By contrast, “for cause” employees can be fired by employers only for a legitimate reason or “cause.” This type of employee makes it more difficult for an employer to terminate an employee.

How to Determine if an Employee is “At Will”

There is a general presumption in the law that an employee is employed on an “at will” basis unless there is  evidence that shows the contrary to be true. When disputes arise, the burden is generally on the employee to show  that they were hired as “for cause” rather than “at will” employees.

How to Protect Your Business from Employment Disputes

While the burden may be on the employee at trial to prove that they were not “at will” employees, it is important for employers to be proactive and protect themselves from potential employment lawsuits. Many employers utilize “at will” agreements in New Jersey that employees affirmatively have to sign, stating that they understand they are employed on an “at will” basis. Employers draft similar language into other documents such as applications, employee handbooks, and employee evaluations to show that the employee is considered “at will.”

Statements made by employers can also help to determine an employee’s status. It is important to recognize that some statements made during the interview, hiring, and orientation process can lead an employee to believe that they are a “for cause” employee rather than an “at will” employee, as intended by the employer. Assurances made to the employee that suggest that they will not be fired unless there is a good reason could be problematic for an employer seeking to hire an employee on an “at will” basis. It is important to review with your hiring managers statements that could be problematic and vague as to the status of an employee.

Help with Employment Law in NJ

Dealing with employment law issues are important for any business. Making it clear to an employee whether they are “at will” or “for cause” can have a huge impact on your flexibility to control your workforce and terminate employees on terms that are advantageous to your business. When hiring employees or setting up workplace policies, the best thing to do is to consult with your local Moorestown Business attorney. Your attorney will consult with you to ensure that any materials or practices in place at your business will effectively allow you to hire  employees as either “at will” or “for cause” at your discretion. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention  is worth a pound of cure.” Make sure you take steps to protect your business now to avoid major problems in the future.