As a general rule, every employment relationship is a contractual relationship, regardless of whether the contract is reduced to writing. Employment contracts take many forms, including at-will employment, implied contracts created by offer letters or language in employee handbooks, collective bargaining agreements or union contracts, and individual written employment agreements.
Under Montana law, there are three recognized types of employment relationships. These include collective bargaining agreements; individual written employment agreements providing for a specific term of employment, e.g., employment for 1 year; and all other employment relationships. Unlike many states where this last category falls under the default rule of at-will employment, in Montana these employment relationships are governed by the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (the Act) (MT Code Sec. 39-2-901et seq.).
The Act limits an employer's right to terminate an employee at will or without good cause. Under the Act, a discharge from employment is wrongful and, therefore, actionable if:
• The discharge was in retaliation for the employee's refusal to violate public policy or for reporting a violation of public policy.
• The discharge was not for good cause and the employee had completed the employer's probationary period of employment. (If the employer has not established a probationary period, the statute provides that an employee is in the probationary period during the first 6 months of employment.)
• The employer violated the express provision of its own written personnel policy.
For purposes of the Act, “good cause means reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily ...