Making Sure Your At-Will Employees Remain At-Will

by Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Almost every state, including Connecticut, recognizes the doctrine of employment-at-will, meaning that in the absence of a contractual provision to the contrary, the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason or for no reason.

There are federal and state statutory exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is the federal statute barring employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex and various other characteristics; and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits retaliation against any person who has filed a wage complaint with the US Department of Labor or cooperated in an FLSA investigation (29 U.S.C. §215(a)(3)). In Connecticut, employers with three or more employees may not make employment decisions based on an employee’s race, religion, age, sex or other protected class, including, as of October 1, status as a veteran (CGS §46a-60). Other Connecticut statutes protect an employee from being terminated because, for example, he or she reported an employer’s illegal activities to a public body (CGS §31-51m); served as a juror (CGS §51-247a); or discussed his or her wages with another employee (CGS §31-40z). Employees also cannot be discharged for reasons that violate public policy, such as for refusing to work under unsafe conditions (see our prior blog on the public policy exception here).

Employers must also ensure that their supervisors do not unwittingly modify the at-will relationship. Statements such as “you’ll have a long career here” or “you’ll be taken care of” may be interpreted by an employee to mean that an implied contract of employment has been formed. Connecticut courts recognize a claim for wrongful termination based on an implied employment contract if the employee can prove that the employer agreed, by words or action, not to terminate the employee without just cause and that the parties agreed on definite terms (such as compensation and fringe benefits) that are supported by consideration (such as a bonus or pay raise).

A supervisor’s statements about an employee’s future employment may also form the basis of a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation. A recent example is the case of Geany v. City Carting, Inc., where the Connecticut Superior Court (J.D. of Fairfield at Bridgeport) rejected an allegation that an implied contract had been formed, but allowed a claim of negligent misrepresentation to proceed by an employee who argued that he was discharged despite the comments of two superiors that as long as he kept his “nose clean,” he had no fear of losing his job. The court found that the employee sufficiently pleaded the four elements of negligent misrepresentation: (1) the employer made a misrepresentation of fact; (2) the employer knew or should have known the statement was false; (3) the employee reasonably relied on the misrepresentation; and (4) the employee suffered pecuniary harm as a result (that is, he remained in the employer’s employment and did not seek other employment opportunities). Importantly, the court in Geany found the negligent misrepresentation claim to be viable even though the employee handbook clearly stated that employment was at-will.

In light of Geany, employers should instruct their supervisors and managers to exercise caution when commenting about an employee’s prospects with the company, whether in the context of a formal performance evaluation or in casual conversation, because it may be difficult (or inconvenient) for an employee to distinguish between a remark intended as a simple compliment and a remark intended as an assurance of future employment. To reduce the risk of liability for an implied contract or negligent misrepresentation, employers should warn their supervisory employees not to make definite promises about an employee’s potential with the company (e.g., “you’ll be here for the long haul”) and to use more guarded language (e.g., “while we can’t predict the future, we hope that our relationship with you will continue to prosper”).  And, finally, employee handbooks should state not only that employees are “at-will,” but also that the “at-will” arrangement can only be altered in a writing signed by the employee and an authorized officer of the company.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.