Employers across the U.S. have several feasible systems that they can use to manage the personnel side of their organizations.
These systems, according to Kaiser (2005), denote the diverse types of employment relationships that may subsist between the employer and the organization on the one hand and the employee on the other.
Of importance is the fact that the type of relationship that the employer may develop with the employee is fundamentally important when it comes to issues of employment termination or, even worse, the likelihood of being sued in a court of law for wrongful dismissal.
It is the purpose of this paper to discuss one such type of employment relationship commonly referred to as “At-Will” employment, to offer a working definition of the term in addition to evaluating the various exceptions to “At-Will” employment.
Various scholars have come up with differing definitions of “At-Will” employment, although all are guided by the same basic principle which resonates around the fact that “…an at-will employee can be terminated at any time and for any reason, or no reason at all, with or without notice” (Kaiser, 2005, p. 33).
Simply stated, At-Will employment signifies a type of employment relationship in which the worker may terminate his or her services at any given time, and the employer has a right to fire or sack the worker for any reason that is largely viewed as legal (Cornell University Law, 2010).
For instance, an employee may quit his job to attend further studies, while an employer may terminate the services of an at-will employee due to poor performance, or to streamline operations in a difficult economic environment.
However, the regulations governing this employment relationship are clear that no employee should be fired due to either discriminatory or retaliatory reasons, or because the worker exercised a legal right as entrenched in the Constitution and other labor laws governing employment relationships (Kaiser, 2005).
Currently, there exist several exceptions to “At-Will” employment, largely brought about by the various legislative, judicial, and constitutional modifications made on the doctrine over the years.
According to Kaiser (2005), “…one exception is the whistleblowers’ legislation, which recognizes that an employee should not be terminated because [he] refused to act in an unlawful manner, attempted to perform a duty prescribed by statute, exercised a legal right, or reported unlawful or improper employer conduct” (p. 33).
In the case study, Dan attempted to report improper conduct in the form of illegal billings to Medicare and, as such, his termination can be deemed as unlawful.
In equal measure, it can be argued that Dan was exercising a legal right when he reported the numerous irregularities to the supervisor and, therefore, the employer did not go by the provisions and regulations of “At-Will” rule in terminating Dan’s employment.
This exception, categorized under the public policy exceptions, underlines the fact that an employer must not fire an employee on the reasons that the employee refused to violate a state or federal law, the Constitution, or other professional guidelines and codes of ethics (Holzschu, 2000).
As such, it can be safely argued that Dan was wrongly discharged for refusing to bend the rules of professional practice and the Constitution.
These exceptions protect employees from wrongful dismissal for filing a valid complaint against an employer, requesting for leave, refusal of unwarranted sexual advances from employers, and exposing illegal acts, among others.
The second type of exceptions, known as the implied employment contracts, rotates around the fact that implied verbal contracts and probationary periods can indeed be upheld by the courts of law if the employee wants to sue for wrongful dismissal (Holzschu, 2000).
For instance, some managers are fond of implying upon their employees that they will stay with the company for years if they become more productive and efficient.
As such, the company is deemed to have committed itself to an implied verbal contract with the employee and, in effect, the employee can argue his or her case in a court of law if the contract with the employer is terminated.
The third category of exceptions is called the ‘covenant of good faith and fair dealings.’
This category of exceptions originates from a legal theory of contracts, with its basic premise being the fact that “…parties will not treat each other unfairly or act in a manner of malice or bad faith toward each other” (Holzschu, 2000, para. 13).
This legal premise, when brought over to the field of human resource management, is principally utilized by dismissed employees to file suits when no employee handbook, written guidelines or verbal obligations have been made by the employer.
In this perspective, Dan has every right to file legal proceedings against Briahill Memorial Hospital for wrongful dismissal since no employee handbook or any other communication was made to him upon his hiring.
Indeed, the management referred Dan to the staff handbook when they had already terminated his employment, which is wrong according to this particular category of exceptions.
As the director of Briahill Memorial hospital, my first concern would be to ensure that the HR department implements all the rules about “At-Will” employment as enshrined in state and federal labor laws.
Suits for wrongful dismissal can be costly for the organization (Kaiser, 2005), and the hospital is bound to pay huge amounts of money to Dan since it is clear that he was wrongfully dismissed for refusing to play ball.
Another concern would be to take effective remedial measures in the claims/billing department since Dan’s dismissal demonstrates that something is amiss in the department.
Third, the HR department should be requested to be availing all the needed information, including staff handbooks and company policies, immediately upon the hiring of new employees.
Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute. (2010). At-Will Employment. Retrieved September 21 2010 <http://topics.law.cornell.edu/node/9970>
Holzschu, M.A. (2000). Just Cause vs. Employment-At-Will. Retrieved September 21 2010 <http://www.businessknowhow.com/manage/justcausevsfreewill.htm>
Kaiser, D.M. (2005). The implications of At-Will versus Just-Cause Employment. Proceedings of the Academy of Organizational Culture, Communications, and Conflict, Las Vegas