Does “At Will” Have Any Limits or Exceptions?

Question: I recently worked for a national healthcare company as a temp, through a staffing agency. They said it was an “at will” arrangement. During the training period I was falsely accused by the instructor of “disrupting the class,” which God knows I never did. We were told we needed to achieve certain scores in the training modules. My scores were higher than some other people’s, though I was let go and they were continued. I always finished the assignments within the time allotted, though I was the last to finish. It seems like I basically was fired for being “slow” compared to other students. I’m 53, and my mind is still sharp. Is there something wrong, or illegal, about this?

David, Albuquerque, NM

Answer: “At will” means only two things: (a) you and the employer didn’t agree how long the employment would last, and (b) the employer can end the employment relation for any “proper reason.” Note that last phrase very well: “At will” does not mean that you can be fired for being older than others; that is illegal, a violation of Federal law. How do we know if they fired you for being older? It’s hard to say, because it’s really hard to know why we do things. I can tell you this: there was some reason, and if anything wrong or illegal happened here, that may be it.

I am older than you are, David, and this is what I am frequently told: “Wow . . . you are a blogger? You post videos on Itunes and YouTube? Wow . . . at your age! People at your age don’t do those things.”

“Older” can mean more experienced. That’s not a bad thing. “Slower” can mean more careful. That’s not a bad thing, either. But lots of people think “older” means less able to learn, more likely to become sick, and unable to learn . . . all three being “illegal” reasons not to hire someone. If you believe your age might have been a factor in your not being kept, then by all means address that in an email to the healthcare company, and I would send it to the CEO or President. Ask them for a good reason not to keep you on, and remind them that “slower” learners may just be “longer, better” learners.

Best, Al Sklover

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