The At-Will Doctrine Twenty Years After Gladden and Sterling Drug
By John Norwood · October 11, 2008 · 2008 Ark. L. Notes
In categories: Labor and Employment Law
Few legal doctrines are as well embedded in Arkansas law as the “at will” doctrine. The doctrine, as is well known, states that where an employee is hired for no specific period of time the term of employment is at will, permitting either the employer or the employee to terminate the relationship at any time for any reason or for no reason. The history of the doctrine in Arkansas can be traced at least as far back as St. Louis I.M. & S. Ry. Co. v. Mathews, an 1897 case in which the Arkansas Supreme Court stated that “it is very generally, if not uniformly, held, when the term of service is left to the discretion of either party, or the term left indefinite, or determinable by either party, that either party may put an end to it at will, and so without cause.” However, approximately twenty years ago the Arkansas Supreme Court announced that the doctrine would be modified in Arkansas to permit an employee to sue for wrongful discharge under either the “implied contract” theory or the “public policy” theory. The implied contract theory suggests that an employer who promises an employee that he or she will not be discharged without cause is obligated to live up to that promise. The public policy theory states that the discharge of an employee is wrongful if it is in violation of the public policy of the state.