Home » Blog » Right to Work vs. Employment at Will

Many people confuse the term “right to work” with “employment at will”. I hear a lot of people say that Texas is a “right to work” state and what they mean to say is that Texas is a state in which you can be fired at will. The term “right to work” state actually means that a person has the right to work at a company that has a union without having to be a member of the union. Without a the right to work law, a so-called “union shop” company could refuse to hire or be forced to hire only union employees. The right to work law does not prevent a company from having a union or union employees, it just simply means that a non-union person can still work at the company, if the company wants to otherwise hire that person.
The term “employment at will” means that an employee can be fired for any or no reason (just like an employee can quit for any or no reason), as long as the real reason does not involve a violation of a state or federal law. For example, a company can terminate an employee because of your personality, because the boss had a bad morning, maybe a fight with his wife or someone cut him off in traffic, it doesn’t have to be a reasonable reason or a fair reason. But, if a boss needed to fire several employees because of a business downturn, and part of the reason he let one or more of the employees go was their gender, race, and/or their age, this violates specific laws that make it illegal to discriminate based on age, race, or gender. Another example would be if a male owner or supervisor decides to let a female go because she refused his sexual advances, this violates a specific law regarding sexual harassment.
We all know that no one does anything for no reason. So, if you are fired with no reason being given and the company refuses to give you a reason, you will need to try to find out the reason should you want to bring a suit for wrongful discharge. Normally, an easy way to do this is to file for unemployment. If the employer opposes your unemployment, they will have to come forward with a reason in order to prevent you from getting unemployment and then you will find out. However, if an employer has fired you for an illegal reason they will normally come forward with a pretextual reason. Should you sue them for wrongful discharge, it would then be your burden to come forward with evidence to show that the reason was a pretext for illegal discrimination or to show that the pretextual reason is not believable for whatever reason.