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At-Will Employment: The 21st Century Form of Slavery

At-will employment is defined as such relationships between an employer and employee in which the latter could be dismissed without any warning or valid reason. The proponents of the at-will employment doctrine argue that it is beneficial for the worker to the same extent as for the employer since the former has a right to leave the job whenever he or she wants. Therefore, the fundamental assumption of at-will employment is equally beneficial for both parties. However, the current paper argues that the problem with this doctrine is that favors employers rather than employees who become the hostages of the workplace.

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The first thing that should be mentioned relating to the issue of at-will employment is that the recruiter is allowed to modify the contract of employment. For example, it is legal to alter wages and cease to pay award fees. Under such circumstances, the laborer cannot be sure about the income level and receives no guarantees about the stability of the employment. Besides, this system enables the administration to regard the workers, especially non-qualified ones, as tools to achieve the goals.

For instance, McClelland, using the case of the employment at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc., proves that the “reward for doing a good job is that I get to do more work” instead of material or moral incentives (350). The author states that no matter how hard anyone tried to achieve the identified goals, “theyre gonna increase the goals” (McClelland 345). Undoubtedly, this situation became possible due to the absence of fixed and unchangeable agreements between two parties. At-will employment could be used to manipulate the duties of employees since the administration could easily command to work more and the laborer has no chance to resist this decision. This way, it becomes apparent that the initial belief about the mutual advantages of this system is wrong and does not fit the reality.

Another issue concerning at-will employment is that employees could be commanded to work extra hours without any additional payments. For example, the experience of laboring at Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc. suggests that the employees were obliged to work more than they originally agreed upon eight hours (McClelland 347). McClelland writes that “additional overtime is necessary” but he does not mention that there are benefits for working extra hours (347). Thus, employees are obliged to neglect their personal lives, interests, and rest for the sake of working for a small wage at a huge company. Unsurprisingly, this leads to high staff turnover and indicates that the employer does not value the employees and does not try to create favorable working conditions and the atmosphere in the team that would make them stay. Hence, an employer benefits from the practice of hiring at-will personnel, while employees suffer from working overtime without the possibility to request bonuses.

At this point, it could be said that at-will employment resembles a legalized form of slavery since the management is free to manipulate the workers who could do nothing except leaning the company. At-will workers are even deprived of the ability to visit a bathroom during the shift without the permission of the managerial personnel because “you have no legal right to take breaks” (Tirado 372). This phrase signifies that staff members lose from at-will employment since they have to scarify their health and basic needs. The workers admit that this system of constant control makes them feel “like in prison” (McClelland 352). Thereupon, the link between an employer and employee as two equal parties turns into the dominance of the former over the latter.

The concept of at-will employment signifies that supervisors and managers could not violate the civil rights of subordinates; nevertheless, they do not need any special reason to fire employees. This means that they could dismiss a staff member by mistake, or because of an illness or even personal reasons (Tirado 373). For instance, “a mistake on paperwork”, “flu”, a denial to “sleep with someone” could be some of the reasons to fire employees (Tirado 373). According to Working America, the political organization of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL–CIO), 20 million workers in the US suffer from this form of dismissal annually. And the organization could do nothing to dissolve this problem since from the legal point of view, these dismissals are nothing wrong. Once again, it shows that the system of at-will employment brings more advantages to employers rather than to employees.

In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the cases described above identify that the system of at-will employment, in reality, is not that beneficial for ordinary workers in comparison with the administration of companies. Therefore, this reveals the contradiction within the definition of the term and the mismatch with the real situation. At the same time, one could argue that it is the choice of individuals to work under such conditions and they remain free to quit whenever they want. However, people choose this path not because of the good life and personal preferences, but because they have no other options. This claim anew proves the dichotomy of employment’s definition.

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Works Cited

McClelland, Mac. “I was a Warehouse Wage Slave”. Acting Out Culture: Readings for Critical Inquiry, edited by James S. Miller. 4th ed., Macmillan, 2018, pp. 345 – 360.

Tirado, Linda. “You Get What You Pay For”. Acting Out Culture: Readings for Critical Inquiry, edited by James S. Miller. 4th ed., Macmillan, 2018, pp. 370 – 376.

Working America. “Wrongful Termination”, 2020. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 17). At-Will Employment: The 21st Century Form of Slavery. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/at-will-employment-the-21st-century-form-of-slavery/

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