At-will employment means that either an employee or an employer can end their relationship at any time for any reason. In practice, it means that your employer can fire you at any time for any reason at all or even for no reason. It’s the default rule in every state except Montana. Still, just because it’s the default, doesn’t mean all fired employees have are out of luck. In Colorado, there are a lot of exceptions that limit when and why an employer can fire someone despite it being an at-will state.
Employees Not Subject to At Will Employment
Even though most employees in Colorado are subject to the at-will rule, some are not. The basic rule is that employees that have an some sort of agreement with their employer may be exempt from at-will employment.
These agreements include employment contracts for a specific time period, civil service protections, job security clauses in collective bargaining agreements, and other promises made by employers. In some cases, the agreement doesn’t have to be written. It just has to be a promise made by someone in management.
Employees who are not covered by at-will employment can still be fired for cause. But that requires some job-related reason for termination.
Illegal Reasons to Fire At Will Employees
At-will employment doesn’t give employees a completely free hand though. It is still illegal to fire an at-will employee for the following reasons:
- Because of his or her sex, age, race, religion, color, national origin, pregnancy, or disability,
- In retaliation for complaining about discrimination described above,
- For complaining about sexual harassment,
- In retaliation for opposing illegal practices of their employer,
- Because they take FMLA leave,
- Because they complained about not being paid proper wages or overtime,
- Engaging an any lawful activity off the employer’s premises during non-working hours. (Note: for now at least, use of marijuana does not count as a “lawful activity for purposes of this exception.)
So there you go: that’s the basics of at-will employment and its exceptions. It’s a pretty bad rule for employees, but there are some exceptions that provide at least a little protection.