Richard Wall


The purpose of this Article is to examine the nature and origin of the issues now being faced by Washington courts in the area of at will employment and to argue that the well-established legal principles governing other kinds of contracts be consistently applied to at will employment contracts. This will result in a proper balance between the desire to protect at will employees from unfair termination and the need to allow employers the freedom to make decisions in the hiring and termination of at will employees without undue interference. This Article will first review the historical development of the at will rule from English common law through the significant Washington state cases leading up to the Thompson decision. Next, the Thompson case will be analyzed with particular emphasis on the employee handbook exception to the at will rule. The Article will then discuss cases decided after Thompson and the manner in which the courts have attempted to resolve some of the questions raised by the Thompson opinion. The probable effects of an expansive interpretation of the Thompson handbook exception on employer-employee relations will be considered in light of the actions employers may take to avoid liability and exposure to Thompson-type claims by discharged employees. Finally, the Article will argue that the consistent adherence to established contract law principals in the application of Thompson will benefit both employers and employees by providing adequate protection against unjust dismissal of at will employees while, at the same time, enhancing the ability of employers to communicate with their at will employees.