Definition of Employment-At-Will
Colorado follows the legal doctrine of "employment-at-will" which provides that in the absence of a contract to the contrary, neither an employer nor an employee is required to give notice or advance notice of termination or resignation. Additionally, neither an employer nor an employee is required to give a reason for the separation from employment. In Continental Airlines Inc. v. Keenan (1987), the Colorado Supreme Court recognized at-will employment in Colorado, and noted that there may be certain exceptions to the presumption of at-will employment.
Basis of Employment-At-Will
The general principle behind the concept of employment-at-will is that the doctrine promotes efficiency and flexibility in the employment context. Employment-at-will allows employees to seek out the position best suited for their talents and allows employers to seek out the best employees for their needs.
Potential Exceptions to Employment-At-Will
There are many exceptions to employment-at-will, including various exceptions created by the legislature and the courts. While not all-inclusive, listed below are common exceptions to employment-at-will. Persons inquiring should consult with an attorney for guidance.
An employer may not discriminate in terminating an employee. It is discriminatory to discharge an employee based upon disability, race, creed, color, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, and ancestry. Inquiries regarding discrimination should be made to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (303-894-2997) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (303-866-1300).
Violation of Public Policy
An employee cannot be terminated for reasons violating public policy. Examples include discharging an employee for: filing a worker's compensation claim; bringing or threatening a lawsuit; serving on a jury; engaging in lawful off-duty activities; refusing to commit perjury; whistleblower situations, etc.
If an employer has an established policy for termination, in a manner that constitutes a contract, whether expressed or implied, the policy must be followed in the same way for each employee covered. Since a company policy can be viewed as creating a contract, an employee seeking to enforce the policy should consult an attorney for advice.
Union contracts typically contain provisions that govern the termination process. Employees covered by such a contract should consult their union representative.
Independent contractors are governed by the terms of their contract. If they are terminated prior to the contract end date, it may be considered a breach of contract and they should consult an attorney.
Advisory Bulletin: Notice of Termination and Employment-At-Will, 4(II)
Colorado Revised Statutes 24-34-402 (Discriminatory or Unfair Employment Practices)
Colorado Revised Statutes 24-34-402.5 (Off Duty Legal Activities)
Colorado Revised Statutes 24-50.5-103 (Retaliation Prohibitied)
Colorado Revised Statutes 13-71-134 (Jury Service)
Colorado Revised Statutes 8-4-120 (Discrimination or Retaliation)
Continental Airlines Inc., v. Keenan, 731 P.2d 708, 711 (Colo. 1987)
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