Employment-at-will doctrine refers to the assumption that employment is for an undefined period and can be ended by either employee or employer for any reason. The policy is also called as terminable at will. Courts usually follows the same strategies to interpret employment relationships. As per tradition, US employers possess the right to fire employees at will for any good or bad reason. This category of employees includes those who are not protected by the express employment contracts. Such contracts state that employees can be fired because of the only good cause. The “at-will” doctrine is not applied to the employees on contract for the specified period that is a specific number of years. The US maintains general employment-at-will rule.
However, other countries that include, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, Italy, Great Britain, and Sweden have statutory provisions. According to these statutory provisions, employers are required to show good cause before terminating employees. For example, an employee cannot be terminated for the reason of filing the complaint on workers’ compensation after being injured on the job; however, the policy varies from country to country. In the late 20th century, a number of states left the “at-will” doctrine and improved the protection of employee rights at work. These positive modifications also dropped the number of union memberships in the private sector.
Employment-at-will doctrine plays an important role in setting, friendly environment in the organization. Moreover, these employee policies help in implementing disciplinary actions for employees showing up inappropriate behaviour. Organizations following the doctrine of employment-at-will must ensure that their employees have signed and attested the workplace policy agreement.
I have been appointed as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a middle sized company and assigned the task of preparing an initial public offering (IPO). During preparation of an IPO, I discovered a number of personnel problems that require immediate action. The problems and the proposed solution are discussed as follows.
- John posted a rant on his Facebook page in which he criticized the company’s most important customer.
The behaviour of John against the customers of the organization and the use of an internet during working hours is intolerable. First, it is against the company’s code of conduct to offend its customers. John has violated the policies of the organization; therefore, he must be issued with a warning or the short period termination letter. Second, it is not acceptable to use an internet of the company’s phone for personal issues during work hours. Even if, John would have been using his personal phone, it is still intolerable during work hours. However, for this case, I, being an employer would give chance to John to explain his position for the action of ranting and criticizing organization customers on the Facebook page. The purpose of this explanation is to warn John and other employees for showing inappropriate behaviour against the policies of the organization.
In such cases, it is advisable, that the organization should conduct meetings to discuss the issues related to the customers and how they can be resolved. If the employee discuss such issues off the job, even after on job discussions, then it is appropriate to fire the employee as it would be for the good cause .
- Ellen started a blog to protest the CEO’s bonus, noting that no one below director has gotten a raise in two (2) years and portraying her bosses as “know-nothings” and “out-of-touch”.
Ellen is distressed with the behaviour of the CEO of the organization. She complained that the current CEO is not capable enough to be in this position. First, he is disconnected from the employees and takes no interest in the related issues. Secondly, he has not added any bonuses or increments to the employees’ salaries below the post of director. As according to the employment at will doctrine, the claims of Ellen are justified. She has the full right to claim on such issues; however, it is not allowed to use slandering language against the CEO. The Virtue of Ethics can be referred in this case.
Furthermore, in order to ensure, if all the claims of Ellen are justified or not. The management must look in to the job contract of Ellen; if it promises in the contract, the employee would receive increments and bonuses, and then it becomes the right of the employee to raise their voices for increments in their salaries. However, if they are hired on contract then organizations are not responsible for such scenarios. Therefore, it is important to check the job contract of Ellen before making any management decision
- Bill has been using his company-issued BlackBerry to run his own business on the side.
Bill was using company’s resources for running his own business. It is signed in the contract that the employee would safeguard the assets of the organization and use them for the organizational projects only. The behaviour of Bill is the clearest case of theft, misuse, loss, and waste of the company’s resources. Furthermore, the organization’s property must not be used for personal advantages. This is the clearest case of termination as this act is the violation of organization policies and fraud. It would be most appropriate to issue termination letter to Bill. Since, in case of ignoring this act would damage the disciplinary structure of the organization.
- After being disciplined for criticizing a customer in an email (sent from his personal email account on a company computer), Joe threatens to sue the company for invasion of privacy.
In this case, the organization retrieved the email from the employee personal account. However, it is on notice of employees that the organization’s management keep check on their systems through electronic surveillance. It is installed for observing the performance of employees and other checks. It was noticed by the management, that this personal email was accessed by the employee during the working hours and using the company’s system few times. The management has to check the email for security reasons. Therefore, the charges of Joe are unjustified. According to the rule of employment at will, the organization has the authority to fire Joe based on customer mistreatment.
- One of the department supervisors request your approval to fire his secretary for insubordination. Since the secretary has always received glowing reviews, you call her into your office and determine that she has refused to prepare false expense reports for her boss.
It is majorly believed that a professional employee does not engage in illegal or unethical activities until the resulting situation is imminent. This principle provides little protection to the ethical independence of professionals that most proclaim. Under the employment at will policy, it is inappropriate and illegal to fire the secretary. She acted as the whistleblower against the department supervisor and for this Sarbanes Oxley Act protects her. Furthermore, an employer must show the proof of the valid reason, why any employee is terminated. It is suggested that the organization should implement a whistle-blowing policy and keep a check on the activities of each employee, even if he/she is a supervisor or a boss.
- Anna’s boss refused to sign her leave request for jury duty and now wants to fire her for being absent without permission.
Under the employment at will doctrine, it is unethical and illegal to fire Anna. It is because, in New York and some other states, the employer is fined for not permitting employee a leave for jury service and the employee cannot sue for unlawful discharge. However, in most of the other state employees is permitted to sue. Such kind of inconsistencies increases the chance of whistleblowers. The decision of not terminating her is based on the Ethics of Deontology. In case if Anna is terminated, then it would leave a bad impression of the organization that is having a tendency of being injurious to public good .
After analysing couple of scenarios, it has been noted that the Employment at Will doctrine has some pros and cons. However, the employee policies and laws setup the disciplinary and rightful environment for both employees and employers.
Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (2012). Law and Ethics in the Business Environment.
Jinbo. (n.d.). Guide for Human Right and Information Security.
Legal Match. (n.d.). Wrongful Termination of Jury Durty. Retrieved from Legal Match.
Prometric. (n.d.). Protecting Company Assets and Resources. Retrieved from Prometric.