When and Why Can I Be Fired under Minnesota Law?
Unless there is an employment contract or agreement, employment in Minnesota is “at-will.” This means that either the employer or the employee may terminate the employment relationship at any time and for no reason at all. Until terminated by the employer or the employee, the length of employment is indefinite.
Where Can I Find Minnesota’s At-Will Law?
Minnesota‘s at-will employment law cannot be found in the Minnesota Statutes. Rather, the doctrine of at-will employment is a creature of common law. That is, the courts established the at-will employment rule. Some legal writers have noted that the doctrine of at-will employment was first mentioned in a legal treatise by Horace C. Wood, Master and Servant § 134, at pages 272-273 (1877).
There are limitations to the principle that an employer may fire an at-will employee at any time for any reason. An employer may not discriminate against an employee. A person’s race and ethnicity are not legal reasons for terminating an employee. In some circumstances, serious medical illness is not a legal reason to terminate someone’s employment – at least for a period of time. When an employee and employer agree that the employee will give the employer more than just employment services, an employment agreement may exist. When an employer does something to cause the employee to act in some way in reliance on what the employer said, there may be an employment agreement. Sometimes an employment contract may be inferred from the conduct of the parties initially, or as they continue in their employment relationship.
What is an Employment Contract?
Basic written contracts can control the employment relationship, including length of the relationship and basis for termination of the relationship. Oral promises can do the same. Some employers and employees agree orally to these terms prior to employment, and some do so in writing signed by both the employer and the employee.
When Can an Employment Contract be Created?
Employment contracts do not have to be created before the employment relationship begins in order to be valid. As long as all the requirements of a contract exist, an employment relationship may change from at-will to a relationship governed by a contract. Often the conduct of parties later on in the relationship infers that the parties have decided to create a contract rather than at-will employment.
How Can an Employment Contract be Created?
There are other ways that an employment contract may be formed. Sometimes employment handbooks or manuals are considered employment contracts. If an employment manual given to an employee is specific and definite enough, it may constitute an offer to enter particular type of contract, called a “unilateral contract.” An employee’s continued performance will then constitute acceptance of that offer and a contract is formed. If there was a previous contract with different terms, the employee’s continued performance constituting acceptance of the employer’s offer in the employment manual will modify the original contract. An employer’s general statements regarding policy, however, are not sufficient to create a contract.
Who Wants a Contract and Who Doesn’t?
When an employee is terminated, it is often beneficial to the employee and harmful to the employer if an employment contract existed. This is because rather than allowing the termination of the relationship for any reason at all, the circumstances allowing termination are limited to those contemplated in the contract.