Employment at will, in its simplest form, means that your employer can terminate your employment with or without cause, and with any reason or no reason. Likewise, you can voluntarily resign from your employment with or without case and at any time.for any reason. In the State of Georgia, unless otherwise agreed to, your employment is at will, and thus, Georgia is a right to work state.

However, there are clear exceptions to employment at will, including federal laws that protect employees from suffering an adverse employment decision based on being in a protected class, which include, but are not limited to, the employee’s race, sex, age, religion, and national origin. For example, if Wendy works at a car dealership and her employment is terminated because a customer complained about having to buy a car from a woman, there most likely will be legal consequences for the car dealership if Wendy decides to pursue a claim for wrongful termination.  However, if Wendy’s employment is terminated because the sales manager comes in one day and decides he does not like her, there may not be any legal consequences.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing the federal laws that protect employees from being discriminated against by their employers. If an employee believes they have suffered an adverse employment decision based on being in a protected class, they have 180 days from their date of termination to file a complaint with the EEOC. Once a complaint is filed, the EEOC will investigate the claim and make a finding as to whether the employee was discriminated against.  If the EEOC finds there was discrimination, they will attempt to find a resolution for the parties.  If they are not successful, they can either decide to file a lawsuit on behalf of the employee, or decide that if the employee desires to file a lawsuit, it must be done without their assistance.  In most instances, the EEOC will not file a lawsuit on behalf of the employee unless they believe the discrimination is quite clear.  At any stage in the EEOC’s investigation, the employee may request the EEOC stop its investigation.  If an employee makes this request, the employee will then have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit against the former employer alleging discrimination of laws covered by the EEOC.

Michael Weinstein is an attorney with MBW Law, LLC in midtown Atlanta. He specializes in litigation, insurance coverage, landlord/tenant and employment law. Contact Mike at (404) 228-2629 or mike.weinstein@mbwlaw.net.