What's the difference between "Right to Work" and "At Will"

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PostPosted: Sat May 05, 2012 8:12 pm
What's the difference between "Right to Work" and "At Will"?

'Right to work' state laws are basically 'anti union' laws.
'At Will' just means you can quit or be fired with no notice or reason.

People frequently get those terms confused. This should help straighten them out:

Employment-At-Will vs Right-To-Work

The phrases “employment-at-will” and “right to work” are often heard in conversations regarding employment and/or dismissal. But what do these phrases mean? These two phrases are sometimes mistaken as having the same or similar meanings, but they are entirely different.

means that an employer or an employee can end the working relationship at any time for basically any reason. If you quit, or are fired, no notice or reason is required. Most states are employment-at-will states, and there are a few exceptions to employment-at-will law.

For example, employers are forbidden from firing anyone for any reason protected by federal legislation: age, sex, religion, etc. If a company’s employee manual states that certain procedures be followed before firing an employee, and those procedures aren’t followed, that can be an exception to the employment-at-will laws. Additionally, an agreement with a union or intentional infliction of emotional distress may prove to be exceptions.

Right to work
laws do not cover quitting or being dismissed from a job. Roughly half of the states in the United States are right to work states, meaning that job seekers have the right to work for a company without being required to join and/or financially support a labor union. In these states, it may still be required that a union represents an employee in grievances and negotiations. Railway or airline employees are sometimes not protected by right to work laws, even if they reside in a right to work state. Federal enclaves may also be exempt.

Conversely, those who do not live in a right to work state could be required to join or financially support a union as part of employment. “Unionized” jobs in these states often include railway or airline employees, for example.

In a nutshell, employment-at-will laws refer to whether reason or notice must be given if an employee is fired or quits. Right to work laws make residents of certain states exempt from being required to join a union in order to work.

Right to work states:


North Carolina
North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota

"At will" rules are much more complicated. For "at will" state listings and exceptions see here:

At-will employment
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