Employment-at-will doctrine states that a worker, who enters into employment without a written contract, generally can be dismissed for good cause, bad cause or no cause (Muhl, 2001). Relationships between employers and employees are usually presumed to be at-will in all of the country’s states except Montana. Many countries’ laws throughout the world are silent on the issue of termination of employees and that gives employers room to fire employees only for cause. Since John posted a rant on his facebook timeline criticizing the most important customer to the company, he should be legally relieved of his duties. Investigations should be carried out first to ascertain the reason behind John’s ranting because there may be a valid reason for such behavior. If he was acting in a manner likely to suggest that he was attempting to organize a boycott on the customer, he should be fired (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012).
John’s actions are regrettable because they violate the company’s procedures, policy and ethics, so his termination will be for good cause. The customer has to be apologized to in writing so that he does not opt for the company’s main competitor. The decision to fire an employee for gross misconduct is also provided for under the ethics of care, whereby employees are entitled to foster friendly business environment with clients. Lawmakers saw it appropriate to draft the employment-at-will doctrine to accord respect to freedom in contracts of employment, ensure employer deference and -employee job security.
Muhl, (2001) goes on to explain that the employment-at-will means that an employer can alter the employment terms without notice and consequences. These terms include; termination benefits, wages, or paid time off reduction. This leaves the employee susceptible to dismissal, or changes in work schedule as the employer wills. The doctrine can be modified by contracts entered, for example, collective bargaining agreements normally provide that represented employees may only be dismissed for cause such as poor performance, misconduct, economic reasons, or as the contract specifies.
However, there is common law and statutory exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine that seek to prevent wrongful terminations of employees and its unfair repercussions. These common law exceptions include; implied contract of employment, the public policy, and implied covenant of good intent, although at times, employees have difficulties proving their circumstances under these exceptions. Under public policy, the employee is protected against unfavorable employment actions that violate the public interest like refusal to perform an act that is prohibited by state law (Stone, 2007). Anna’s boss refused to sign her leave request for jury duty and wants to fire her for being absent without permission.
According to state law, an employee cannot be refused time for jury service and so the employer may be sued or fined if they dismiss the employee. In such a case, Anna cannot be discharged of her duties for the basic rule that the right and duty to comply with the state’s jury service is one of the most important civic and community duties as stipulated by law. Firing Anna means that the company is injurious to the public good, thus denting its reputation to stakeholders.
An employee is protected if he reports a violation of the law, engages in an act that is in public interest, or exercises a statutory right in his job, for example, the secretary who refused to prepare false expense reports for her boss cannot be fired, after request from her supervisor. This is because first, the secretary has received glowing reviews, which makes her an asset to the organization. Secondly, an employee may not express a rejection to participate in either fraudulent or illegal activities in an organization until their real participation and a looming harm to the organization thereof. The doctrine, under such circumstances, provides for limited protection to the employees with morals like that secretary.
Implied contracts may be created either orally or in implied terms. Oral terms are assurances that if an employee works to his best ability, then they will never lose their job, while implied terms involve an employer’s policies and practices and the specific termination procedures to be followed. Under this exception, relationship is regarded to be at-will, and the employer may use disclaimers to relieve himself of contractual duties and modify policies and procedures regarding the employment contract. Some states may provide that contracts of over a year be in written form hence creating a challenge to employee claims involving oral assurances (Stone, 2007).
Implied covenant of good faith is only recognized in a few states. The exception requires a just cause for dismissal to prohibit terminations that have been made in bad faith or motivated by malice for instance an aging employee may be dismissed maliciously so that the employer avoids paying for their retirement benefits.
There are other claims that limit employment-at-will, under tort, prohibiting employers from using improper motives to intentionally interfere with employment contracts, or intentionally inflict duress to employees. Additionally, an employer may be estopped from dismissing an employee or may be required to pay damages to the employee if his employer has made a clear promise of employment and the employee reasonably relied on this promise.
Statutory exception to the employment-at-will doctrine include illegal discrimination whereby an employer is prohibited from basing employment decisions on race, religion, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation. Statutory law forbids employers from dismissing employees in retaliation for engaging in legally proper or desirable acts like claiming overtime pay. Three years ago, a sales lady was hired in the organization. Some of her main duties were to attend marketing promotional events organized by the company. In one of the events, all the sales executives were supposed to wear company branded T-shirts, which the sales lady refused and instead insisted on wearing the burqa, since it was an outdoor event held on a Saturday. Her manager interpreted that as disrespectful and forwarded her name to the personnel department seeking her dismissal. After much deliberation, the personnel department decided against the idea and called for truce between the two parties as stipulated by company policy. The sales lady, even though she had gone against the company rules for not wearing the promotional merchandise, the company ruled in her favor and could not fire her over her religious rights.
Employees are also protected under the whistleblower policy, which states that an employee shall report an activity they consider as illegal or dishonest to an organization, or to the parties specified in the Policy (Outten, 2007). The whistleblower is usually not responsible for investigating the activity or for determining the corrective measures. Investigation is carried out by the relevant management officials. These activities may include violations of laws and fraudulent activities in an organization.
An employee is required by law to report any knowledge of an illegal or fraudulent activity to their supervisor or the personnel director. They should not file false allegations because that would lead to punitive measures being taken upon them. On the case of the secretary who exposed misconduct, the supervisor should have it that, it is illegal to fire his secretary because the law protects her under the whistle-bower against termination of employment for providing information on her boss. If the incident had actually have happened, then she would have been called upon to help with investigation (Outten, 2007).
A whistleblower is protected by law in confidentiality and against retaliation. The whistleblower’s confidentiality has to be maintained, but at the same time their identity may have to be revealed for investigations purposes. This is to ensure that the law is followed and the accused is provided with their legal rights of defense. The Company is compelled by law to avoid retaliation against a whistleblower, this means they cannot be fired or threatened whatsoever. If a whistleblower has evidence that they are being targeted for retaliation then they should immediately report the matter to the personnel director. Any reports of illegal and dishonest activities in the organization must be forwarded to the assistant personnel director mandated with investigation and coordination of corrective actions (Outten, 2007).
The employment-at-will doctrine is of great importance in most states’ employment contracts albeit with exceptions, an employee may make claims but fail to prove them. Having a credible internal process for addressing complaints like whistle-blowing and anti-retaliation policy will protects the organization from violating the law and the federal government can step in and help the organization with investigation and solutions. The organizations will be considered transparent if will allow employees to report any fraudulent activities without fear of retaliation like the secretary did.