The American Labor Law: Employment at Will

Words: 1372
Topic: Law


The term is commonly used in the American labor law to refer to the contractual relationships between employers and employees in various sectors. Employment at will means the employer is always allowed to dismiss the worker without providing sufficient reason whenever it is deemed necessary, but some exceptions exist. This implies that the organization does not need to justify the reason for the termination of the contract since the hiring process is always at will. Similarly, the organization does not have any explanation as to why it should hold the employee back when he or she feels it is time to move in search of the greener pastures. Unfortunately, critics are quick to point out the term is applied unjustly in the sense that it is characterized by inequality as far as bargaining power is concerned.

In the 19th century, the employment-at-will concept became common in the employment contracts forcing the Supreme Court to intervene by making it formal in the Lochner period whereby the government was concerned with preventing itself from criticism. In the 20th century, several states adjusted the law by making amendments to include various exceptions (Sandefur, 2010). The trade unions played a significant role in enforcing changes in the employment contracts since it was mandated with the role of collective bargaining. Currently, the employer is expected to follow the right course before dismissing the member of staff, meaning a sufficient reason must exist for the employee to be relieved of his or her duties.

For instance, an employee cannot be fired based on his or her gender or race since this would amount o discrimination. This makes employees at will a controversial topic in the labor market, and a comprehensive solution is yet to be established.

Application to the Cases and Relevant Ethical Theory

Employment at will presumes that any hiring process is always optional, meaning the employer has the right and the freedom to discharge the worker either with a reason or whenever deemed necessary. Similarly, the employer does not have any right over the decision of the employee to quit, strike, or cease work. In 2000, the Supreme Court clarified that the employer had the freedom to fire any member of staff over misconduct meaning the organization might act peremptorily, subjectively, or erratically depending on the situation and the firing process might be conducted without warning, going through the right process, carrying out an objective assessment, or reassessing the matter (Hyde, 2003).

The existence of the employment contract does not grant the employee the right of protection, implying that it might be terminated at any stage, but the case is different if the employment terms are stated clearly, indicating the employer will not fire the worker unless certain rules are broken. In the case where John posted a rant on his Facebook, criticizing the organization’s important customer, firing the employee would be the best option since the sales would be affected by his continued stay. The customer is the most important because he or she contributes to the growth of the organization financially. In fact, the employee should understand that the organization might be unable to pay him without the customer. The case of Jim is different, and the organization is advised to listen to his pleas since it touches on work improvement.

Before changing the work schedules, all concerned parties should be consulted, including the junior employees, as this would allow efficiency. Firing the employee would be imprudent since some middle-level employees might be taking advantage of the existing situation to infringe on the rights of workers, implying the claims that Jim raises should be given serious considerations. Boycotting meetings are one of the ways through which employees are allowed to express their frustrations, and the role of the top management is to encourage dialogue under such cases instead of firing industrious employees who work on commission.

Ellen’s case is almost similar to that of Jim since they both protest over the company’s actions to reward only a few employees. Even though the CEO should be given credit for the performance of the organization, it does not mean that he or she is the only person responsible for high productivity. The management board should be considerate in rewarding employees since giving incentives selectively might serve a negative role in demoralizing other junior workers. What the management has to do in this case is to explain the reason as to why only the CEO was rewarded and not other employees. However, she has to be warned against criticizing her bosses as uneducated individuals who know nothing. The claims she rises, suggesting that the bosses are out of reach, ought to be investigated to establish their accuracy since top managers should always be in touch with the human resources.

The case of Bill is serious, and he has to be fired straight away since he is using the company property to enrich himself. Any corporation assets should always be used properly, as an employee has a collective responsibility for preserving company equipments. Employees have the right to protest over new policies meaning the decision of secretaries in the accounting department to dress in black and white as a way of protesting is justifiable. However, they have to be informed that the aim of introducing the software is to increase efficiency since a lot of time is always wasted on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

In the first place, Joe should have been fired for criticizing the customer since he does not have any authority to engage the client in unhealthy conversations. His decision to sue the organization for invading his privacy is uncalled for because the computer he was using belonged to the organization, and as such, the IT section has access to any information contained in the computer database, including those sent to other people. In fact, the case would not succeed. After the case, the employee should be shown the doors for lack of loyalty and indecency. In the case of the secretary being forced to prepare false expense reports, the organization should indeed think of establishing the whistleblower policies to protect such employees. Consequently, the boss should be investigated for misconduct.

The case of Anna is complex since each employee is entitled to annual leave, but the departmental heads are to determine when the employee should be given time to rest. Therefore, firing the junior employee would not be the best option; instead of engaging them in dialogue would help in resolving the problem. Utilitarianism is one of the ethical theories that could be employed effectively in analyzing the cases presented because it suggests that any decision should aim at bringing happiness.

Whistleblower Policies

The decision to incorporate whistleblower policies in the company principles should have been taken a long time ago since it plays a role in preventing gross misconduct and abuse of office. In the case provided, the boss was forcing a secretary to prepare a false expense list, yet the junior worker lacked a clear procedure to follow, given the fact that the issue is a matter of life and death (Sifuna, 2012). Without the policy, an employee is likely to lose his or her life by reporting the incident directly through letters since the perpetrator might have access to the information. Misallocation and misappropriation of funds is one of the causes of bankruptcy in many organizations across the world since company finances are used for personal gains. While designing the whistleblower policies, the organization should first appreciate those willing to sacrifice their lives for the betterment of the working environment.

Second, it should establish a stable law that would see the perpetrators jailed for longer years to prevent them from being employed in other organizations. Since individuals engaging in misconduct and corruption are always connected and very powerful, the policy should state clearly that anyone found to have misappropriated company finances would be fired right away, as this will serve as a deterring factor. Finally, the company has to warn whistleblowers against falsehood since employees might develop a tendency of fixing their bosses whenever they feel that their objectives are inconsistent with those of the organization and the line manager would not give them an easy time.


Hyde, A. (2003). Working in Silicon Valley: Economic and Legal Analysis of a High-Velocity Labor Market. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe. Web.

Sandefur, T. (2010). The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. Washington: Cato Institute. Web.

Sifuna, A.P. (2012). Disclose or Abstain: The Prohibition of Insider Trading on Trial. Journal of International Banking Law and Regulation, 27(9), 23-45. Web.