How is At-Will Employment Defined within Healthcare?


Most people are somewhat familiar with the term at-will employment. Generally, employment-at-will means that an employee or employer may terminate employment at any time, for any reason, without advance warning, and without being subject to retaliation. But how does this doctrine apply to employees in the healthcare industry who feel they have been wrongfully terminated?


Exceptions to The Rule


Many states acknowledge three exceptions to the at-will employment policy: public policy, implied contract, and the implied covenant of good faith. 


Public Policy - In brief, employees may not be terminated from a position for refusing to follow instructions from an employer if the actions would result in illegal activity. Refusal to participate in such activities is considered beneficial to mankind


Example: A technician must draw blood from a patient, but the clinic has a limited amount of supplies. The supervisor instructs the technician to use a syringe from an open pack, at the risk of possible contamination. The technician refuses to proceed since doing so may expose the patient to illness. (Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Nebraska, New York, and Rhode Island do not adhere to this exception.)


Implied Contract - This is based on the principle where both employee and employer have a mutual 'understanding'. There is no written or oral agreement, however, the contract is simply based on the behavior of the employee and employer. 


Example: A physician is employed by a hospital to treat patients. The physician gives the patient a diagnosis of a certain condition, then begins a course of treatment. The implied contract is for the doctor to treat the patient, with no guarantee of being cured. Neither the patient nor the hospital could hold the physician liable if the patient's illness is not cured since the patient received the proper medical treatment.


Implied Covenant of Good Faith (Implied-in-Law) - This concept is based on the premise that the employee and employer believe the other will act honestly and each should receive fair treatment. Organizations using deceitful methods to avoid obligations would negate the policy.


Example: A healthcare organization making budget cuts decides to terminate long-term employees to avoid contributing to costly retirement plans.


If you or someone you know encountered any situations similar to those above, please contact a wrongful termination attorney to discuss your legal options.


By: Eileen O'Shanassy

Eileen O'Shanassy is a freelance writer and blogger based out of Flagstaff, AZ. She writes on a variety of topics and loves to research and write. She enjoys baking, biking, and kayaking. Check out her Twitter @eileenoshanassy.