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!