Employment contracts are important to just about any employee from any part of the country, including Rhode Island. When drafted properly, they clearly spell out what the expectations of both the employee and the employer are with respect to their relationship. The agreement can therefore help head off misunderstandings and disputes that could otherwise end with someone losing his or her job and then suing the employer.
However, in Rhode Island, an employment contract has an additional layer of importance given this state's take on the "employment at-will doctrine." Like almost all of the other states in the country, Rhode Island follows the general rule that, unless there is an employment contract in place saying otherwise, an employer can terminate an employee, with or without notice, and for any reason or for no reason at all.
Unlike other states, however, Rhode Island recognizes none of the common exceptions to employment at-will. In other words, a Rhode Island employee cannot argue that his or her termination was in violation of some public policy. Moreover, Rhode Island employees cannot rely on an employee handbook or other "implied contract' in order to keep their jobs.
As in other states, employers still must follow federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination, as well as federal laws requiring employers to allow employees to unionize if they so choose. However, generally speaking, if an employee wants protection from the employment at-will doctrine, he or she will need a contract to accomplish that goal.
Not all employers or industries customarily offer employment contracts. For those who do, however, a Rhode Island employ will be well advised to read over the terms carefully and to make sure he or she understands them. Furthermore, in the even of a contract dispute, an employee may want to seek the help of a legal professional.