Rhode Island law allows for none of the common exceptions to the rule of at-will employment that many of its sister states permit, and this means that employees in this state, if at all possible, are going to want to consider negotiating for some limitations on when they can be fired.
To review, the idea of at will employment meets that either an employee or an employer have the option, for a good reason or even particular reason at all, to terminate their employment. This general rule, to which the vast majority of states adhere in some respect, can be modified via employment contracts in which an employer may promise, for instance, not to fire an employee except for certain reasons.
In all states, and as this blog has alluded to previously, employment at will does not give an employer in Rhode Island or anywhere else the right to discriminate illegally. However, an employer need only have a non-discriminatory reason to let a worker go; it doesn’t have to be a good reason or even “fair” from ethical perspective.
Moreover, there may be special laws or union agreements that limit employment at will in Rhode Island. However, Rhode Island does not recognize any of the typical exceptions to employment at will.
Perhaps most importantly, courts in this state will not be willing to infer that an employer promised to keep an employee on unless there is a clear agreement saying as much; oral promises, handbooks, etc. simply will not help a fired employee.
Employees who are able to negotiate the terms of their employment should be aware that Rhode Island law provides little job security to them. It may be best to push as hard as possible for terms in an agreement specifying exactly when an employer can fire them.