Those “at will” and probationary employees…

We are rapidly approaching the time of year when school officials make most of their personnel decisions. Teacher contracts will be renewed for next year….most of them anyway. A few will be selected for a proposed nonrenewal.  Supervisors and principals will also be making decisions about all of the non-contract people who serve on an “at will” basis. And then we have the teachers who are on probation.

Here are three things to keep in mind with regard to the probationary and at-will group.

First, don’t believe the old notion that an at-will employee can be fired for “good reasons, bad reasons or no reason at all.” There is a court case that actually says that, but you’d be a fool to rely on it.  It’s more accurate to say that they can be terminated for any legally permissible reason, even if that reason does not amount to “good cause.”

Second, it’s true that a probationary teacher can be let go at the end of the contract term if the board determines that this is “in the best interests of the school district.”  If that teacher asks you for an explanation, you can recite those words and leave it at that.  But just remember that if the teacher pursues the matter further with a grievance or a complaint of discrimination or retaliation, you will have to offer a more specific explanation.

Third, legal cases involving public employment almost always turn on the true motivation of the employer. What was the real reason for the employer’s decision?  This motivation is often revealed through informal means—emails, off the cuff remarks.  If you are a supervisor, always remember the mantra.  What….you don’t know the mantra?? Well then: see today’s Dawg Bone!


 File this one under: EMPLOYMENT