At-Will Employment Law |
Exceptions, Risks, and Direction |
Ehren Stellrecht, Sadie Nelson, Jesse McNaught BUS 305-01 |
Employers today take many risks in running their businesses. Whether they are large or small employers, hiring and firing personnel is a fact of business. Termination (and therefore hiring) is increasingly viewed with caution, in part, because of the uncertainty regarding the law surrounding termination of employment. We will examine the law pertaining to employment relationships by exploring the employment-at-will doctrine. We will show how the at-will doctrine has evolved since its inception; then we will ...view middle of the document...
As we will see, both courts and legislatures in the United States have taken steps toward defining the reasons for which employment cannot be legally terminated.
Just-cause employment specifically addresses the reason for dismissal. Just-cause makes no assumption about the time of termination, so we have consensus in general that employees and employers are free to terminate employment at any time. If an employee is a just-cause employee, then there must be some job-related reason to justify the termination of his employment. Indeed, as noted in our research, many employees may have the mistaken belief that their employer may only terminate them for just-cause when, in fact, they are actually at-will employees as are most people in the United States.
The discrepancy between the employee expectation or belief and the fact of the employment relationship should be highlighted here. Many employees do not understand their employment relationship; they believe they cannot be fired without a reason to justify the dismissal. A study showed that around 80-90% of employees believed they could only be fired for a reason (Dannin, 2007). A misunderstanding like this has two places of origin, one is that employers are not making their rules clear to employees and the other revolves around the paradigm in society regarding fairness. The first might be explained away because the employer certainly does not care to broadcast the at-will doctrine until he has use for it since it is a rather unpleasant notion that could affect morale. The second point, however, shows how some concepts underpinning employment-at-will are disharmonious with societal notions of right and wrong.
One final concern concerning employment type is the existence of a contract of employment, written or implied. This has become a larger issue in litigation and employers seem to be working harder to deny any sort of contract of employment. Employment contracts can be written to do many things, such as make employment for a specific period, create rules of employment, define the scope of employment, or explain other terms such as grounds for termination. Courts have sometimes ruled the existence of a contract by implication or by documentation even though the employment was defined as at-will. This brings into question the risk that employers take by not creating a definite contract of employment and allowing the possibility of the court effectively creating one for them.
Common Law Exceptions to At-Will Employment
At-will-employment can be beneficial to employers as it allows for easier termination of
employees. However, there are exceptions to this rule and not following these, either subtly or blatantly, can be cause for employees to take legal action. Both common law and statutory law provide the exceptions to the at-will doctrine. Several court cases have set the foundation for the three major at-will employment exceptions: public policy exception, good faith and...