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Employment Contracts: What Every Georgia Educator Should Know

By Tina Folsom

Staff Attorney

Georgia is a “right to work” state. The effect of that is that unless you have a contract for a definite term, either you or your employer may terminate the employment relationship at any time, with or without cause, for any reason or no reason at all. This is generally known as employment at will. The only exception would be if there is illegal discrimination under federal law. Therefore, there is no entitlement to continued employment for a certain term without a written contract.

Despite this, most Georgia school systems require a contract of employment, which generally negates at-will status. This is the contract educators sign prior to starting the school year. This employment contract is a legally binding document. It is very important to review your contract prior to signing to make sure you understand all the terms in the document. Some charter and private schools have indicated in their contracts that employees are “at will” and, therefore, fall under the general rule above of no entitlement to the job, even for a specified time period. However, if your employment contract does not specifically state you are an at-will employee, you have a right to employment for the stated term of the contract, usually one school year. As such, you and your employer must have “cause” to terminate the contract prior to the end of the contracted term.

If you find yourself wanting to depart your employment prior to the expiration of the stated term of your contract, the best practice is to talk with your principal or other direct supervisor and request to be released from your contract, stating your reason for the request and the desired date of release. This step should be followed by your written confirmation of the conversation, including the details of your request and the dates specified. Your principal or other direct supervisor will then, most likely, forward your request to the system’s Human Resources (HR) department. Usually, HR will then inform the superintendent of the request. The superintendent would then present your request to the board of education for consideration. School boards in Georgia generally meet monthly, so it is important that you are aware of meeting dates in order to make sure, from a timing standpoint, that your request is included on the board agenda for consideration. Remember this is a request, so it may be denied. Also remember, your principal does not have authority to release you from your contract. Though you are employed by the board of education, your principal will be very influential in this decision and his/her opinion matters. For this reason, your communication with your principal is very important and must be your first step. In light of current teacher shortages, we are not seeing many Georgia systems approve requests for release from contract. In instances where they do grant the request, it is only when the system is able to find a replacement. That process may take some time, so patience is key.

The process of obtaining a release from your contract is very important. A written release from your contract with the school system is necessary to avoid two consequences for breach of your employment contract. First, you may be sued by your employer for breach of contract if you depart your employment sooner than the expiration of the stated term. Through a lawsuit, a district can seek monetary compensation for the damages they incurred because of your breach. In lieu of a lawsuit, an employer can include a liquidated damages clause in the employment contract. This type of clause estimates the expected damages and sets forth a specific amount that the employee would be obligated to pay the school system in a case where the employee seeks to leave employment prior to completion of the school year. Liquidated damages are not considered penalties but rather a predetermined amount of money that must be paid as damages if you do not work the entire time period of your employment contract. The second consequence, and possibly the most damaging, is that the school system may file an ethics complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (PSC) for abandonment of contract.

In 2018, abandonment of contract was moved from Standard 8 and placed in Standard 9 of the Code of Ethics for Georgia Educators. If reported, you can be sanctioned by the PSC for not fulfilling your duties through the end of the term under the employment contract. The PSC has issued guidelines with regard to breach of contract. You may choose to familiarize yourself with these date-specific guidelines by visiting the PSC website. Keep in mind that, as these guidelines are specific to the PSC, school systems are not required to follow them when making decisions about whether to release you from your contract.

The PAGE legal staff wish each of you the best throughout your careers. As PAGE members, you have access to privileged and confidential legal guidance regarding any topic in the teaching profession, so please contact us if you have questions or concerns. Whether it’s a “what if” scenario or an “I need help” situation, PAGE attorneys are here to help you process what’s happening and get you through it. To reach PAGE legal, call 770-216-8555 and choose option 1, or email us at


Tina Folsom is a PAGE attorney. A graduate of Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law, Tina has a wealth of knowledge and experience in K-12 education law. Tina has been an attorney since 1999 and has served PAGE members for many years. 


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