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Is Rhode Island an At-Will Employment State?

— November 9, 2022

One of the exceptions refers to the existence of an implied contract.

Almost all American states are at-will employment, Rhode Island included, but there are certain exceptions to this rule. For instance, if it is a case of discrimination or if there’s an implied contract, a Rhode Island employer cannot fire you at will. Or if they do, you need to contact a knowledgeable Rhode Island employment lawyer and file a complaint against your employer.

What does at-will employment mean?

All states, except Montana, are at-will employment. This means that the employer can fire anyone at any time without any reason, and without a warning. There are some exceptions, though. 

Implied contract

One of the exceptions refers to the existence of an implied contract. This is not a written contract, not even a verbal agreement, but the contract is implied based on the actions and statements of both employer and employee over the course of the employment period. The existence of such a contract may be tricky to prove if you want to file a complaint or a lawsuit, so you should have an experienced employment attorney in Providence review your case. 

Public policy violations

If an employee in Rhode Island is fired for refusing to take actions that violate public policy, the at-will rule does not apply. The employee has the right to file a complaint and even recover damages.


Discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin, etc, is prohibited under both federal and Rhode Island laws. According to the law, it is illegal to treat an employee unfairly or persecute an employee because they belong to a protected class. This refers to all stages of employment, starting with the company’s hiring policy and ending with termination. 

For instance, if you are over the age of 40 and your job application is denied although you have all the right qualifications for the job, this may be a case of discrimination. The same applies if your employer starts saying that people your age no longer have what it takes for the job and one day fires you for no reason. In such a situation, they cannot claim it’s an at-will employment state. What they did to you was illegal and a smart attorney can build a solid case against your employer.

Sexual harassment

Sexual Harassment Awareness Image
Sexual Harassment Awareness; image courtesy of geralt via Pixabay,

Sexual harassment falls under sex-based discrimination, but there are so many cases of this type in Rhode Island there are lawyers who deal almost exclusively with sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits.

If your employer or supervisor has been hitting on you, but you kept refusing their advances any action they take against you can be grounds for a sexual harassment complaint. If you are demoted or you’re slapped with a pay cut, these are good reasons to file a complaint. Also, if you are fired your employer cannot use the at-will excuse. An attorney with some experience in this field can easily prove it was a case of harassment and you are entitled to economic and non-economic damages.


Under Rhode Island law, an employer cannot retaliate against an employee who filed a complaint or against those who are collaborating with the investigation into that complaint. Likewise, employers cannot retaliate against whistleblowers exposing unsafe work conditions or illegal activities in that company. The at-will rule does not apply in such cases, and the employer can be held accountable for firing a whistleblower. 

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