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What is the implied contract exception in at-will employment?

At-will employment allows both an employer and an employee to end their professional relationship for any reason or no particular reason at all, provided that a termination does not violate some existing federal or state law. In many cases, terminations that indicate some form of discrimination in the workplace may not qualify under blameless at-will termination, for instance. In most states, including New Jersey, an employer is very likely to have employees sign an at-will employment agreement to protect his or her right to terminate them at any time.

However, there are some exceptions that may protect employees from wrongful termination beyond federal statutes surrounding improper practices like discrimination in the workplace. New Jersey does sometimes recognize that an employer has an implied contract with an employee that precludes termination, even if no written contract exists.

Implied contracts are difficult to enforce, but are possibly enforceable depending on the individual employee's circumstances. For instance, certain policies present in an employee handbook may imply a contract, especially if the policies do not also feature some waiver of implied contract.

If you suspect that your employer has an implied contract with you that may preclude your own termination, or may serve as the basis for a challenge to your termination, you must make sure that you fully understand how the law applies in your particular case before moving forward. An experienced employment law attorney who understands the local and statewide legal system can help you examine your circumstances and develop a strategy to protect your rights and defend proper practices in the workplace.

Source: FindLaw, "At-Will Employment and Wrongful Termination," accessed March 23, 2018

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