Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Third Circuit Weighs in on At Will Employment

In Edwards v. Geisinger Clinic, the Third Circuit analyzed a breach of contract claim. A physician claimed he had a contract for a definite term, and was therefore not an 'at will' employee. He relied on a four-year requirement for a certification, the lack of an at will disclaimer in his offer letter, restrictions on Geisinger's right to terminate him (ex. "my employment and/or contract cannot be terminated for[] [a]dvocating for medically necessary and appropriate health care"), and Geisinger's representation to immigration authorities that it committed to him for a definite term.

The Court wasn't buying it - for starters, he signed a practice agreement that expressly acknowledged that his employment was at will. Hardly groundbreaking precedent here, but the Court provided a helpful, concise summary of at will employment under Pennsylvania law:
Pennsylvania law presumes that employment is at-will. To overcome the presumption of employment at will, an employee "must show clear and precise evidence" that the parties intended to enter an employment contract for a definite term. In analyzing the parties' intent, we consider “the surrounding circumstances." An employee’s “subjective expectation of . . . guaranteed employment . . . based on employer practices or vague employer superlatives” does not demonstrate an employment contract for a definite term. Likewise, "comments which merely evince an employer’s hope that the employee will remain" are inadequate to prove a contract for a definite term.
(internal citations omitted). In short, Pennsylvania has a strong presumption of at will employment that is difficult to overcome.

Image: Third Circuit logo used in commentary on Third Circuit. Not official use.