What is WDEA – Montana’s Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act?

As experienced Montana wrongful termination attorneys, we have dedicated our careers to advising employers and employees alike on their rights and responsibilities under Montana’s employment laws. One aspect of our practice that often comes as a surprise to out-of-state employers is the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (WDEA). This unique piece of legislation replaces the traditional “at-will” employment doctrine commonly found in other states. For this reason, it is crucial for employers to understand the WDEA to avoid potential legal issues and ensure their policies align with Montana law.

If you need assistance with a wrongful discharge or other employment-related matter, we invite you to call our offices to schedule a consultation.

What Is At-Will Employment? Does It Apply in Montana?

In many states, employment is considered “at-will,” which means an employer may terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, provided that the termination does not violate federal or state discrimination laws. However, in Montana, the WDEA governs the employment relationship, providing specific requirements and limitations for termination. Employers who mistakenly believe they operate under the at-will employment doctrine in Montana may inadvertently expose themselves to liability for wrongful discharge claims.

The WDEA establishes three primary grounds for wrongful discharge claims:

  • Termination without good cause. Employers must have “good cause” to terminate an employee. Good cause generally means a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason related to the employee’s job performance or the employer’s business needs. The determination of “good cause” can be fact-specific and may lead to disputes between the employer and the terminated employee.
  • Termination in violation of the employer’s policies. Employers must adhere to their own policies when terminating employees. If an employer fails to follow its own procedures, such as skipping steps in a progressive discipline policy, the terminated employee may have a claim for wrongful discharge. Employers should ensure their policies are clear and consistently applied to avoid potential liability.
  • Termination in violation of public policy. In some cases, an employer may be liable for wrongful discharge if the termination violates public policy. For example, terminating an employee in retaliation for filing a worker’s compensation claim or reporting illegal activity can lead to liability and even punitive damages.[1]

The Importance of Understanding the WDEA for Employers

Failing to comply with the WDEA can result in costly litigation, damage to the employer’s reputation, and significant financial liability. By understanding the requirements and limitations of the WDEA, employers can minimize their risk of facing wrongful discharge claims.

In addition, employers should be aware that the WDEA applies to employees who have completed their probationary period, typically lasting six months. During the probationary period, employees are considered “at-will,” and the WDEA does not apply. However, employers should still exercise caution in their termination decisions, as federal and state discrimination laws always apply.

How BKBH Can Help With Montana Wrongful Termination & Other Employment Matters

At BKBH, our experienced Montana wrongful termination attorneys have a deep understanding of the Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act and how it impacts both employers and employees. We are dedicated to providing our clients with comprehensive advice on their rights and obligations under the WDEA, as well as practical guidance on how to avoid potential liability. Our team can review your employment policies, assist in drafting or revising employee handbooks, and provide training to ensure compliance with Montana law.

If you are an employer with questions about the WDEA or an employee who believes you have been wrongfully terminated, we encourage you to contact our offices to schedule a consultation. As wrongful termination attorneys with decades of legal experience, we will work closely with you to understand your unique situation and provide tailored advice to help you navigate the complexities of Montana employment law. Call our offices today to learn more about how we can help with your Montana employment matter.

[1] MCA § 39-2-903; MCA § 39-2-904.