Counsel - 'At-will' employees don't have contracts, still have some legal recourse

August 23, 2008

The action taken to fire six upper-level Antrim Township employees raised many questions.

To help better understand the power and limitations of a township board, The Herald-Mail spoke to legal expert Tom Wenger, legal counsel to the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors

Most township employees are "at-will" employees and do not have contracts for their services, Wenger said. At-will employees can be hired and fired "at the will" of a township board. However, being at-will does not leave an employee without legal recourse for being terminated if the facts support his or her case.

"Said employee would be in the same position as any other at-will employee in any other profession, public or private, who is terminated," Wenger said. "Legal recourse would depend on the facts."


State law allows for municipalities to create the structure of its bureaucracy to fit its needs, Wenger said. For example, a board could decide to operate without a township manager.

A board may create the office of township manager by ordinance, he said. It also can dissolve the office of township manager, but it must be by means of an ordinance.

Likewise, members of a board of supervisors can occupy bureaucratic offices within the township, including roadmaster and secretary, but not township manager.

"The law says that the office of township manager is incompatible with the office of supervisors," Wenger said. "That means a supervisor cannot occupy the office of township manager."

A supervisor could perform the duties typically reserved for a township manager without filling the office of the manager. A board could decide to operate without a manager, but delegate the authority to give direction to employees to one of its members. That would not necessarily violate the incompatibility clause, Wenger said.

Wenger said the titles of township manager and township administrator refer to the same office under the law. The term most often used in Pennsylvania is township manager.

The Herald-Mail Articles