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At-will employees have few options when fired

Q: I have a question and was wondering if someone can help me in answering it. I was recently told that my position was being eliminated at one of the big four accounting firms. I was told that they are going to look in another city in the country to staff my position out of. I was not offered to relocate or to apply for this position but asked to help train my replacement.

I am an employee at will and not sure if this is legal or not, could someone help me in understanding my options?

A: It sounds like you are in an unfortunate situation. First, I have to make the assumption that you work in Massachusetts. Employment laws differ between states, and there are significant differences between states with respect to employment at will.

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Most employees within the United States, and in Massachusetts, are employees at will.

Employees working in an at-will arrangement do not have an employment contract. An at-will employment arrangement gives both the employer and the employee the ability to end the employment relationship at any time. However, your employer still needs to be careful of other employment laws.

If you are at-will, your employer does not have to find you another role in the United States. They also do not have to offer you relocation.

However, that does not mean you cannot ask about open positions elsewhere and whether they would offer any type of relocation assistance. Although not legally required, I would also ask about severance if you do not remain employed with your company.

Employers still need to exercise caution when terminating employees. If an employee participated in a protected activity like whistle-blowing, and then was terminated, this termination could certainly face legal challenges. Terminations should also be reviewed to ensure that the termination is not based on an employee’s membership in a protected class (e.g., age, race, color, etc.). Also, a termination could face legal challenges if the employee was on a job-protected leave or the employee participated in an investigation of a discrimination complaint.

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Employees are terminated for a variety of legal business reasons, including a company’s financial performance, moving a company’s operations, outsourcing a function, or a change in business strategy.

However, a careful analysis should be performed in advance of an employee termination.

For more information about Massachusetts laws and employee terminations, visit http://www.mass.gov/courts/case-legal-res/law-lib/laws-by-subj/about/termination.html

You might contact an employment attorney to review the specific facts around your termination.

One resource that might be helpful is the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Services (www.masslawhelp.org).


Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group in Hopkinton.