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"At-will" confusion

Q: I recently landed my first job after graduating in May. However, I am confused about my offer letter. In my offer letter, it says that I will be an "at-will" employee. I am not familiar with this term. I have signed the offer letter but not sure exactly what this term means. Can you help explain this to me?

A: Congratulations on landing your first job after college! This is an achievement! Kudos to you!

Most employees working in the United States are "at-will" employees. This term means you are not working with an employment agreement in place. And it also means that you will not be a member of a union. Don't worry too much though. Most employees in the US don’t have employment agreements. Employment agreements are most often used for senior-level hires (e.g., Chief Executive Officers, Vice Presidents, etc.) And most employees are not members of unions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 11.9% of all US workers were union members in 2010.

The term "at-will" simply means that you can resign or leave your job at any time. It also means that your employer can do the same: terminate you at any time for any reason. You don’t have to give your employer notice that you are leaving your role and they don’t have to give you notice either. However, most employees, as a professional courtesy, do provide their employer with two (or more) weeks notice before leaving the company.

Most employers incorporate the "at-will" language in offer letters to newly hired employees. The employer is trying to clearly explain the terms and conditions of your offer. Your offer letter probably also confirmed your salary, start date and title. It may have also included information on where to report on your first day as well as what to bring with you.

A quick article that you might find helpful since you are starting your first job:
“Seven ways to make the most of your new job.” To read, visit http://www.boston.com/jobs/galleries/seven_ways_to_make_the_most_of_your_new_job/

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