Understanding the Advantages and Disadvantages of Employment-at-Will

Updated June 9, 2023

There are many different types of employment relationships, including long-term contract staff positions, short-term contract positions, freelance work, consulting work and employment-at-will. Each of these agreements and relationships has their own set of benefits and drawbacks. If you've applied to an at-will position or you've been offered employment-at-will, you may be wondering what the implications are. In this article, we explain the advantages and disadvantages of employment-at-will and offer seven tips for best navigating this unique situation.

Related: What Is 'At-Will' Employment?

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Understanding at-will employment

Employment-at-will is a type of work relationship in which both an employer and an employee can end their relationship with a company at any time. Before examining the advantages and disadvantages of this type of situation, it's important to first understand what it means to be offered a position as an at-will employee. Here are three things to know about this professional arrangement:

At-will employment doesn't change public policy

Unlike working a contractual job, employers are able to terminate at-will employees without having to jump through hoops. However, it's important to know that entering into an at-will agreement doesn't mean that you can be fired for any reason at all—and all decisions still need to be lawful.

Employment-at-will doesn't change public policy, and all employers are responsible for ensuring that their reason for hiring or terminating employees is fair and free of discrimination. At-will employment means that a company can 'let someone go' or terminate an employee for when they see fit, but they cannot end a person's employment for any of the following reasons:

  • Age

  • Race

  • Gender

  • Gender identity

  • Sexual orientation

  • Health

  • Physical ability

  • Whistleblower status

All companies must act in 'good faith and fair dealing'

The term 'good faith and fair dealing' refers to an implied assumption that when two parties make an agreement, they both should interact with one another in a fair and honest way. While at-will employment allows for employees and employers to end work relationships more freely, employers must still act in 'good faith and fair dealing'. This means that an employer cannot terminate at-will arrangements to avoid paying wages or offering benefits.

You aren't required to agree to at-will employment

If you're offered an at-will position for employment, it's important to know that you don't necessarily have to sign an at-will agreement. If you feel uncomfortable with this idea, you can always ask the employer for more information, and you can try to negotiate an employment contract that better suit your needs.

While some companies may withdraw a job offer if a candidate decides not to sign an at-will agreement, some may not. Employers typically value hiring people with significant experience and a strong skill set. When proposing a contractual agreement, focus on what you can add to a company or department, and explain your reasons for wanting a more conventional employment contract. Telling your employer that you're looking to make a long-term commitment to a company might assist in your negotiation.

Read more: Understanding the Process of Negotiation

5 advantages of employment-at-will

Here are five important advantages of working a job as an at-will employee:

1. Focus on merit and skill

Contractual jobs often base their salary increases and promotions on seniority or a set of negotiated rules or policies. This system is usually most beneficial for people with extensive experience or a long history with a company. However, at-will work agreements don't use collective bargaining tools. Instead, they promote employees based on their merits, actions and overall work performance.

This allows people the opportunity to advance quickly in their careers. If you have a strong skill set, but don't have seniority, employment-at-will might be a good option for you to consider if you're looking to level-up in professional title or salary.

2. Job availability

Because employment-at-will makes it easier for employers and employees to end work relationships more freely, companies who sport this type of arrangement may have more jobs available at any given time. If you're looking to gain industry experience, or you need to find a job quickly, looking for a company that offers at-will employment could be beneficial.

3. No union dues or fees

Certain positions that offer more job security, like union jobs, may also come with a price tag. Depending on the industry, union membership dues can occur monthly or annually, and there may be other fees associated with this type of work as well. While at-will employees do not get the benefits of collective bargaining and union representation, they do not have to pay for it either. This can result in fewer deductions from your paycheck and more money in your pocket.

4. Less risk of strikes or walk-outs

A strike or a walkout is a group statement, in which a large number of employees simultaneously leave work, or refuse to work, to negotiate demands. This statement is typical of unionized labor, and while it may benefit the future of the collective group, it can be very disruptive to individual people's lives.

When on strike, people do not earn pay from their employers, and they run the risk of being replaced by other workers. If your personal circumstances require you to have a steady salary, you might want to consider employment-at-will.

5. Career freedom

As an at-will employee, you are not bound by the limitations of a standard employment contract. If you find a different job that you're more interested in, or a unique opportunity arises, you can easily end your employment agreement. While it's courteous to give your employer some notice, you don't have to give advanced notice, or state your reason for leaving, if you work as an at-will employee.

If you're considering furthering your education, traveling or working for a volunteer organization, you might find that employment-at-will is ideal for you. You may also consider this type of work arrangement if you're new to a profession and you're not sure if you want to make a long-term commitment, or if you want the freedom to commit to another employer more easily.

Related: 10 Great Sabbatical Ideas

Disadvantages of employment-at-will

Here are five disadvantages to taking a job as an at-will employee:

1. Less job security

While employment at-will-allows for people to leave their jobs with little notice and relative ease, the inverse is also true. In this situation, employers don't have to provide notice for ending an employment agreement, which results in little job security. This can lead to stressful feelings at work and conservative decision-making in your personal life.

2. Less teamwork or comradery

Ideally, department members should operate as a team. Coordination, communication and collaboration often result in higher productivity rates and more innovative ideas. Sometimes an at-will employment policy can make people fearful about losing their jobs. This can lead to less teamwork and comradery, and it can create an environment in which people work to benefit themselves, instead of the group or organization.

3. Higher employee turnover

Employee turnover is the rate at which people leave a company. The nature of employment-at-will leads to high turnover rates. Disproportionate employee turnover can cause low productivity, and it can also negatively impact company culture and job satisfaction.

Read more: The Real Turnover Cost of Losing an Employee (And Ways To Retain More Talent)

4. Fewer protections

While there is a level of increased freedom that comes with working without a contract, there are also fewer protections. When working as an at-will employee, you are protected by public policy, but you do not have the same private protections as unionized workers or contracted employees.

5. Less transparency

Transparency in the workplace refers to the overall ease of honest communication between employees and their employers. Sometimes, working as an at-will employee has no negative impact. However, in situations where turn-over rates are high, comradery is low and there is little job security, employees may feel nervous about keeping their jobs. This can lead to a poor work-environment, in which people do not feel comfortable or open talking to their bosses or supervisors about struggles they may be facing.

Related: How to Be Transparent in the Workplace

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Tips for handling employment-at-will

Here are seven tips that can help you best navigate at-will jobs and job offers:

Consider your personal needs

When you're first offered a position as an at-will employee, it's important to consider your personal needs. If you have a strong skill set and you're looking to advance quickly in your career, this type of employment system may benefit you. The same is true if your lifestyle requires a high degree of flexibility. However, if your primary goal in working is to develop a long-term commitment or to find job security, then employment-at-will may not be the best fit for your personal needs.

Track your progress and productivity

When working as an at-will employee, it's important to look out for your personal and professional interests. You can do this by tracking your progress and productivity at work. You can keep track of your goals and completed tasks using a spreadsheet or dated journal, and you can use these documents as a reference if you ever feel the need to substantiate your efforts.

Related: How To Decide Between Multiple Job Offers

Maintain a strong portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of your work and a display of your professional abilities and skills. It's important to create and maintain a strong online portfolio if you're an at-will employee. Online portfolios allow people from all different industries to see what you are capable of, and they are crucial for enticing recruiters and hiring managers.

One of the primary benefits of working as an at-will employee is your freedom to leave your position with little to no notice. This flexibility allows you to market yourself and your skills, and it can help you make quick career advancements.

Expand our professional network

Your professional network is a combination of the work-related and personal connections that a person can use to advance their career. Employment-at-will can allow for career advancement, and it can also lead to more frequent turnover. In both instances, it's crucial to maintain a robust professional network. Here are six ways you can build professional connections and engage people in your industry:

  • Attend networking events

  • Share your information at business dinners or lunches

  • Engage with your college or university's alumni group

  • Use social media

  • Enroll in work-related seminars or workshops

  • Stay in touch with colleagues

Read more: Your Guide To Networking at Events

Keep your skills sharp

Advancing as an at-will employee relies heavily on your skills and abilities. It also may lead you to need to look for a job on a moment's notice. With these things in mind, you should always keep up-to-date with best practices in your field, and you should seek out opportunities to grow your abilities and strengthen your skills.

Update your resume

At-will employees need to be ready to look for jobs with little notice. They also have more freedom to leave a job for another position or company that interests them more. For these reasons, it's important to update your resume every time you earn a certificate, learn a new skill or achieve something impressive at work. Doing may help you to feel more prepared for potential change and more confident about the future.

Be open to outside opportunities

The possibility of career advancement and the freedom and flexibility to leave a position without reason or notice are the two primary benefits of employment-at-will. To take full advantage of these benefits, it's important to be open to outside opportunities that come your way. If a recruiter contacts you regarding a position, listen to their proposals. Taking interviews or meeting with recruiters is perfectly acceptable if you're not committed to a long-term contract.

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