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The notion of at-will employment advocates that employees without a formal employment contract with their employer are to be discharged of their duties at any time by the organization. If the…
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Legal Aspects of Human Resource Management: At-will Employment At-will employment: One of the most common corporate practices in the United s is at-will employment. The notion of at-will employment advocates that employees without a formal employment contract with their employer are to be discharged of their duties at any time by the organization. If the employees have a written contract, it does contain an ‘at will’ clause to the same effect. The employees are also free to quit their jobs under similar conditions. Muhl (2001) states that “when an employee does not have a written employment contract and the term of employment is of indefinite duration, the employer can terminate the employee for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all.” However, even the ‘at will’ employees are entitled to a number of legal protections against unlawful discrimination with regard to the termination of an employee. These are known as exceptions of the at-will employment.
Exceptions of at-will employment:
While discussing the exceptions of at-will employment recognized by the United States, there are three major types of exceptions commonly found in the states. First of all, there are public policy exceptions to employment at will through which the termination of an employee is considered wrongful if it violates the well-established public policies of the state. For instance, an employer cannot terminate an employee if the latter refuses to break the law at the request of the employer. Public policy exceptions are the most widely exceptions that are recognized in most of the states in the US.
Then there are implied contract exceptions where the employer cannot terminate the employee if an implied contract is formed between the two even without a written instrument. In case the employer terminates an employee in violation of an implied employment contract, then possibilities are that the employer will be found liable for breach of contract. It is important to note that implied employment contracts can be created by the employer’s oral or written assurances regarding job tenure or disciplinary procedures. However, it is often found that the fired employee has to bear the burden of proof.
The third type of exceptions are the covenant of good faith and fair dealing exceptions. Under this exception, an employer cannot terminate the employee in bad faith or motivated by any personal hatred. Courts that recognize such exceptions are found to have recognized two types of contracts - a) covenants implied in fact and b) covenants implied in law. For example, covenants implied in fact include repeated promotions and pay increases causing the employee to believe in job security as well as fair treatment. Moreover, there are statutory exceptions that are recognized when the termination of an employee is in violation to federal anti-discrimination statutes that prohibit employee termination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, ethnicity, and so on.
Termination issues of at-will employment:
Public policy exceptions as mentioned earlier in this paper are the most widely practiced across the states in the US. In the context of the case study of Sundown Community Hospital, the termination issue of Jane can be integrated to the concern of public policy exceptions. As termination in violation to public policy is regarded breach of contract, the action (Jane’s termination) of her supervisor James can be termed as wrongful. It is the responsibility of the HR to recognize the public policies in the employee handbook as well as follow them strictly when it comes to wrongful employee termination by the organization. Above all, the legal protections must be emphasized with regard to the unlawful termination issues of at-will employees just as Jane in the case study.
References:
Ford, K. E., Notestine, K. E. and Hill, R. N. (Eds.). (2000). Fundamentals of Employment Law. 2nd edition. Illinois: ABA Publishing.
Jennings, M. M. (2006). Business: Its Legal, Ethical, and Global Environment. 7th edition. Ohio: Thomson.
Muhl, C. J. (2001). The Employment-at-will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions. Monthly Labor Review, January issue. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2001/01/art1full.pdf.
Steingold, F. S. (2007). The Employer’s Legal Handbook. 8th edition. Barkley: Delta Printing. Read More
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