This rule of employment means that an employee may enter work and be terminated from their position because the employer thinks that the employee’s Yankees hat is stupid. This may be, generally speaking, a bad reason because it does not relate to the actions of the employee at work. However, if challenged, the reason will withstand scrutiny because there is no such conception as discrimination on the basis of sports affiliations.
Changing the hypothetical slightly can demonstrate why bad reasons to fire people can easily transgress into illegal reasons. The employer does not like employees to wear any hats or “hat-like” apparel. This would mean that a kippah or hijab could be included in reasons why the employer would fire someone. A case similar to this hypothetical recently was decided by the United States Supreme Court and under Title VII taking negative employment action on the basis of religious apparel was illegal.
This is the danger of firing people on the basis of a “bad” reason, it can be fairly easy to go from “bad” to illegal. This is not to suggest that all bad reasons are or will become illegal reasons.
Illegal reasons are based on discrimination. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or gender tend to be the most prominent, though not the only impermissible reasons.
At will employment can be altered by company policy or employment contracts. In certain instances, an employee handbook which indicates that termination will only be for cause will result in at will employment no longer being the default.
If there is termination for cause, that means there must be a reason related to performance of the employee in the work space prior to termination. One example of this is to terminate an employee for failure to be on time for too many consecutive shifts. Another example would be termination for bringing illegal drugs to the workplace.
While it may be more difficult to fire an employee, it is not impossible. The only issue is to beware of slipping into an illegal reason.