When an employee works for a company, they are often required to agree to an employment contract. While employment contracts can be written out and signed by both an employee and employer, many companies use implied contracts instead. An implied contract can be a verbal statement, company memo, or employee handbook that specifies the details of the employee's employment. These contracts often include information such as start date, salary, and benefits. They may also include conditions for termination for employment.
Many employees think that their employers are not permitted to fire them without a fair, legitimate reason. However, this is not the case. Most states, including Rhode Island, are "at-will" employment states. This means that an employer can terminate employment at any time for any legal reason. The flip side of that is that an employee can voluntarily leave their position at any time as well.
However, an employer's right to fire an employee can be limited in cases where there is an explicit or implicit employment contract that states that an employee can only be terminated for specific reasons. For example, some contracts will state that the employer must keep the employee for a certain amount of time unless there are specific disciplinary reasons to dismiss them. If the contract is verbal, it can be harder to enforce, especially if it is unspecific.
Once an employee has been terminated, an employment contract can control the employee's behavior even after they have left the company. For example, former employees may not be able to use confidential employer information in the future. Non-compete agreements may stop the employee from directly competing with the employer in the future. The scope of this agreement must be limited and exist only to the extent of protecting the employer's business.
Thus, employment contracts can cover a lot of ground and give employees a significant amount of protection. For this reason, Rhode Islanders who believe that they have been unfairly terminated by their employers may want to consider speaking with a legal professional. An experienced attorney may be able to help assess whether an employment contract exists and, if so, how it applies to the situation at hand, ensuring that the worker remains as protected as possible under the circumstances.
Source: FindLaw, "Employment Contracts and Compensation," accessed on March 21, 2017