It depends. Before answering this question, it’s essential to determine whether the employment relationship is at-will or for a definite term. Based on the relationship type, an employer may or may not be allowed to terminate the relationship. Employment is for a definite term when a written or oral agreement exists between an employee and the employer who promises to hire the employee for a certain period. A pharmacy that agrees to hire a pharmacist for three years and promises to pay $100K annually creates an employment contract for a definite term. Conversely, when a car-dealership manager concludes an interview with a job applicant with “you are hired! start tomorrow,” this by itself does not create a contract for a definite period.

What is at-will employment in Oklahoma?

At-will employment means either the employer or the employee may terminate the relationship for any reason or no reason at all, with or without notice. Oklahoma is an at-will employment state. “We are letting you go.” “We are terminating you.” “You are fired.” It may be as simple as an employer uttering the above phrases. At-will employment exists for no fixed duration and will last until the time either the employee or the employer decides to end it. Unless otherwise documented in a written agreement, an Oklahoma employment arrangement between an employee and an employer is at will – allowing the employer to terminate the relationship without reason. However, there are exceptions. Several Federal and Oklahoma statutes limit an employer’s ability to terminate an at-will employee based on, but not limited to:

  1. Race, sex, color, religion, national origin, or age (40 years or over),
  2. Pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,
  3. Mental and physical disabilities,
  4. Wage garnishment,
  5. Filing for bankruptcy
  6. Jury duty,
  7. Genetic information,
  8. Filing a workers’ compensation claim,
  9. In retaliation for exercising rights under Federal or Oklahoma statutes.

Can an Oklahoma employer terminate an employee at will if a contract for a definite term exists?

An employer may not terminate an employment relationship at will if a valid employment contract for a definite term exists. In this case, the contract terms dictate when and how the employer or employee may terminate the relationship. In some cases, courts have found the statements made on employee handbooks and policy manuals may also create binding employer commitments. Courts may recognize an implied employment contract if the handbook language creates a reasonable expectation of definite term employment, contains a termination only-for-cause policy, or a mandatory pre-termination procedure.

You must be cautious while drafting an employee handbook not to make implied promises or create an expectation of definite-term employment. “Here at Bob’s Bakery, we are all family. As long as you show up on time, you will have a job,” this may sound like an encouraging handbook statement made in good faith. However, it may create an unintended employee expectation of employment for a definite period because the language states that they will be fired only for cause. You may be on the hook for a breach of an implied contract with your employee, and in some cases, for public policy violations.

Examples:

Imagine you are an Oklahoma restaurant owner employing several wait staff and a few managers. Generally speaking, managerial positions in the Oklahoma restaurant industry are at-will employment and you are legally allowed to fire your managers for any or no reasons at all. Also, you may terminate the relationship without notifying the employee and still comply with Oklahoma employment laws. However, you may not fire the manager simply because they asked for a reasonable workplace accommodation due to a disability or complained about possible workplace harassment by another manager. Similarly, you may not fire an employee with a valid employment contract for a definite term unless the employee is in breach of express or implied contractual terms.

Conclusion:

Oklahoma employer does not have to give any reasons to terminate an at-will employment relationship absent a valid employment contract, as long as the termination does not violate any State or Federal law.

Niroula Law is here to assist small business owners like you solve employment-related problems. If you have questions or concerns about discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, or any employment-related issues, call us today at (405) 456-9250 or contact us online.