The at-will doctrine, under which most states operate,
provides that an employee or a company can terminate the
employment relationship at any time for any reason.
Just about every business owner and supervisor is aware of
this doctrine. However, they interpret at-will employment
literally, and think that they can fire employees with
HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: Yes, technically, you don’t need a
reason to fire someone. But practically, you are well
advised to have supporting documentation and to give a
reason for a dismissal.
In the absence of a well documented reason for a
termination, the employee is free to bring a claim of
harassment, retaliation, discrimination, or any number of
other issues that may violate civil or employment laws.
Additionally, such claims are filed some months after a
termination and actually go to court a year or more later.
Without documentation, you are at the mercy of the
testimony of witnesses, especially the testimony of the
employee who will show how he/she was victimized while
working for your company.
And, what is going to be your testimony when the former
employee’s attorney asks you, “What was the reason that
you fired my client?” If you answer with, “I don’t need a
reason, we are an at-will employment state,” then you just
figuratively handed the plaintiff’s attorney a blank
The at-will doctrine is not a “get out of jail” card that
allows you to act recklessly. Without good documentation,
you are leaving the fate of your company to jurors who
will be swayed by the theatrics and emotional comments
that a good plaintiff attorney will use to his/her