What does it mean when people say Iowa is an “at will” state?

You’ve just started a new job and your employee handbook says you are employed “at-will.”  Then you see that at-will means that you can be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason at all.  Now that you are sweating, and likely freaking out a little, you ask yourself, “Does this mean I don’t have any options if I’m fired?”

Don’t worry.  Simply because you are an at-will employee, does not mean that your employer has free reign to harass or discriminate against you.  Employers must still follow state and federal employment laws.  Those laws provide protections for employees from illegal harassment or discrimination based on “protected characteristics” or “protected classes.”  In Iowa, those protected classes include:

These are not the only protections you have as an at-will employee.  At-will employees are also protected from retaliation if they make a complaint of discrimination or harassment on their own behalf or another employee’s behalf.  Retaliation is also illegal in Iowa if you are disciplined, demoted, denied a promotion, or fired for exercising a statutory right (such as filing a workers’ compensation claim), whistleblowing, or refusing to violate the law.

State laws like Iowa’s Drug Testing Statute also safeguard the rights of Iowa workers in the private sector who are subjected to illegal drug tests.  Likewise, federal laws like the Family Medical Leave Act provide additional protections if your employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius and you have worked there over a year.

To sum it all up, being at an at-will employee does not require you to check your rights at the door.  Your employer is still required to follow state and federal laws.  If you think your rights may have been violated, click here.

Amy Beck is an employment law attorney in the Johnston office of Fiedler Law Firm, P.L.C.