Q: I work for a small start-up outside of Boston. This is my first job out of college. I love the energy, our product, the work environment, the benefits and the people. Over lunch last week, one of my more experienced co-workers told me we were all "at-will" employees and we could be fired at any time. I keep replaying what he said in my head. It has gotten me nervous. What does this mean? I even looked back at my offer letter and there is a comment in there about me being hired on "at will" basis. I don't want to lose my job but I am also afraid to ask anyone but the Job Doc!
A: Good for you for landing an exciting and fun job for your first job out of college! Congratulations. It is encouraging to know that enthusiastic college grads can find rewarding employment opportunities in 2013!
You are wise to ask this question too. You probably were hired as an "at-will" employee. Most Americans are hired as "at-will" employees. This term means that you can leave your job at any time and your employer can let you go at any time. As the employee, you don't have to share a reason for leaving and your employer does not have to specify a reason for letting you go either. If you were hired with a specific employment contract, you may not be an "at-will" employee but usually these agreements are used for very senior-level hires only. Sometimes you may hear of other positions that are not "at-will," including teachers, police officers or firefighters who are working as part of a union contract.
Although you should be aware that you are an "at-will" employee, it is not something that should worry you. I would bet that most of the employees in your company are in the same category. I would also bet that most of the people you know are also employed in "at-will" positions. You were smart to ask!
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.