What is Colorado employment at will?

Posted by: Jul 07, 2016By Brian Stutheit

Employment at will simply means the employer, or the employee, may terminate employment at any time and for any reason. (But see the discussion below).  There is no guarantee of employment for a certain duration. There does not have to be “good cause” to end employment.  Colorado employment at will law lets an employer discharge an employee because the employee makes funny faces or tells bad jokes.  Employees of private companies do not have freedom of speech protections under the U.S. Constitution for comments made about their employment.  If an employee tells others her boss is a jackass, she can be fired.  At-will also means that an employer can change the terms of the employment relationship with no notice and no consequences.  For example, an employer can alter wages, terminate benefits, or reduce paid time off. If your company is sold to another company, the new ownership probably has a right to alter your reimbursement and benefits.

Colorado is not unique. Most states are employment at will states. In 2012 a group of law firm employees in Florida were fired for wearing orange shirts on Fridays. There are good policy reasons for having employment at will. Think what a mess it might create, and how expensive the working world might become, if employers, or employees, had to show “good cause” every time they changed the employment relationship.

Can an at will employer actually discharge an employee for any reason?  NO.

Colorado employers cannot discriminate based on race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, national origin or religion.  They cannot discharge employees who object to sexual advances. They cannot fire people for going on jury duty. They cannot fire employees who are protected by a contract, or a labor union agreement. Colorado employees who have contractual obligations to protect business secrets, or to work for a specific term, cannot just walk off their job and disregard their contracts. Employee manuals or handbooks are often the equivalent of a contract. Every Colorado employer must comply with the Colorado Wage Act. Employees hurt on the job cannot just be fired. The employment at will doctrine does not mean an employer may fire an employee who is without fault and then deny the employee’s right to unemployment benefits.

What we are saying is that the exceptions to the employment at will doctrine are numerous.  There are so many exceptions to the at will doctrine that one can never assume how the doctrine affects one’s situation.