Despite the growing acceptance of several judicial exceptions to the at-will doctrine, the presumption of at-will employment remains the starting point for analyzing nearly all wrongful termination claims. The Hawaii Supreme Court has recognized certain exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine—public policy. implied contract, and promissory estoppel.
Congress and the Hawai `i legislature have also enacted a variety of statutes which limit an employer’s right to change conditions of employment or terminate the employment relationship. A few examples of laws imposing restrictions on termination include: Title VII, Fair Labor Standards Act. National Labor Relations Act, Rehabilitation Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Age Discrimination Employment Act, Veterans Reemployment Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, and the Hawai `i Employment Practices Act.
The statutory schemes cited have created enough exceptions to the at-will to make the issue of employee rights in the workplace a very complicated area. Indeed, there is always confusion created by employee handbooks which emphasize over and over that employees have an "at-will" arrangement with the employer. Employees in Hawaii especially should realize that Hawaii has some of the most employee-friendly exceptions to the at-will doctrine.