Jennifer is a recent college graduate who has been hired by an accounting firm. In the short time she has been employed with the firm she has discovered a number of behaviors she feels could be inappropriate regarding the employment-at-will doctrine as well as some liabilities with the employer. She has brought this up only because she feels obligated to report the behaviors’ in which she has witnessed and wants to ensure she won’t be held liable for not informing the management team (LEG 500 – Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance, 2012).
Jennifer identified four categories of questionable behavior which are 1) skills, competence and abilities, 2) management, behavior, and performance, 3) labor laws, and 4) policies and procedures. The each of the four categories mentioned above will be discussed in how they apply to the Employment-At-Will Doctrine as well as the liability of the employer. Skills, Competence, and Abilities
In the first scenario, the employee isn’t able to learn the necessary computer applications for the job in which she was hired even after a few months of training and support. When the supervisor tries to find out what the problem is, the employee consistently tells her boss that she is “a good worker and a genius” and she goes on to say that “he does not “appreciate her” (LEG 500 – Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance, 2012). A legal and binding doctrine known as the Employment-At-Will Doctrine gives the company grounds to terminate this employee.
The Employment-At-Will Doctrine allows companies a broad spectrum to terminate employees “for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all” (Halbert, T. , & Ingulli, E. , p46, 2012). The same doctrine provides the employee the freedom to leave the job without notice, for any reason, good or bad. The employee doesn’t have to have a reason at all to leave the position in which they were hired for, they can just leave under the same doctrine.
We could even change the scenario slightly in stating this particular employee could actually be doing a good job or maybe the employee could argue they were doing no better or worse than other people who had the same job responsibilities therefore resulting in a reasonable person coming to the conclusion the supervisor or management was picking on that particular employee but even considering those sight changes to the scenario, the company would still be in their rights to terminate the employee under the Employment-At-Will Doctrine (Zins, 2012).
The issue at hand here is the employee in question is not performing in the way the company had hoped and there has been sufficient time provided in the employer’s mind for the individual to learn and become proficient in the necessary tasks. Management, Behavior and Performance In this particular situation the employee occasionally burst into a rage when criticized or questioned concerning the behavior of frequent tardiness. When her boss and other staff members identify this behavior and verify it’s a regular occurrence they attempt to address the issue and remind her of the company’s late policy.
The employee’s response is that she “knows her rights and what to do” if she is wrongfully discharged. She also goes on to say she “took a business law class in undergrad school and it taught her everything she needed to know about exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy” (LEG 500 – Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance, 2012). In this scenario it almost seems like the employee was trying to belittle her supervisors or threaten them to not pursue the tardiness issue.
It’s believed by this author, she was trying to draw attention away from the inappropriate behavior of being late which is what preempted the discussion in the first place. As identified in first scenario, the Employment-At-Will Doctrine gives the company the ability to terminate the employee for any reason. The company would be able to ensure a quick processing of this particular termination if they could show that all the times this particular employee was late, was documented in writing. This should always be done in any given case of tardiness or un-authorized absence.
The Employment-At-Will Doctrine means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except when the reason was illegal or for no reason without incurring legal liability (At-will employment – overview, 2013). Under the doctrine, the employer can change the terms of the employee’s employment with no notice and the company would still have the right to terminate the employee. An example, although it may seem unfair would be if the employee was hired at a certain amount and the employer wanted to reduce that amount, the employer could legally do so without violating any law or rights of the employee.
Once the employer reduced the pay, they could still terminate the employee and not be in risk of breaking any laws or violating anyone rights (At-will employment – overview, 2013). Labor and Laws In this scenario the employee takes an un-authorized day off from work to observe her religious holiday. This holiday falls on a day that is during “tax season” and the day off occurred during an incredibly busy period for the company.
Prior to this time frame the company announced to all of its employees they were not allowed to take off during this time-frame unless they had prior management approval. Also, there is no labor union for accountants so the union helping the employee in this matter would not have done any good. Another issue with this employee is she talks to her co-workers during lunch breaks and sometimes during regular work hours, encouraging them to organize and form a union to “protect themselves” (LEG 500 – Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance, 2012).
The company has to be careful in this situation because an employee does have the right to observe religious holidays. The behavioral issue here is the blatant disregard for the company and fellow colleagues. The management team announced that any time off during this period would require prior approval from the management and due to the fact the employee used the religious holiday as her excuse to justify her actions, the actions went against management direction so at a minimum the employee should be reprimanded and written-up.
More than likely if she had used the direction recommended by the company if they needed time off during this time, the management team would have more than likely approved her request and then all would have been fine but it appeared the employee intentionally disobeyed the policy and used her religion as a justifiable excuse. As far as the discussion she’s making with other employee’s concerning the union implementation as long as she’s having these iscussions during non-paid breaks, during non-paid lunch or after working hours she is not in violation of any policies, laws or regulations.
In fact, in 1935 workers were guaranteed the right to organize and form unions and they could not be terminated as punishment for doing so but at the same time workers should respect the employer enough to not have these discussions during the times when work is needing to be done (Halbert, T. , & Ingulli, E. , p49, 2012). New state labor legislation was enacted in 2012 that reports the most active areas of state legislation.
Those areas reported came from child labor, equal employment opportunity, human trafficking, immigration legislation, independent contractors, wages paid, time off, unfair labor practices, and worker privacy. The factual information involving the areas mentioned above along with 20 additional areas was the result of the new enactment and there are additional guidelines that businesses can turn to regarding some of those areas (Fitzpatrick J. Jr. , & Perine, J. L. , 2013). Policies and Procedures
This last scenario involved a consensual relationship between an employee and a supervisor where the employee’s supervisor consistently asks the employee out on dates; and initially the employee refuses but later accepts the offer after talking to a girlfriend about the situation whereas the employee is encouraged by the friend to accept the offers. The employee identifies that during her “New Employee Orientation”, the facilitator informed the entire group of new employees, of the company policy which prohibited employees from dating supervisors.
The employee also remembers being given an employee handbook with the written policies which also forbid such behavior but never-the-less, the employee and her supervisor still continued with their consensual relationship (LEG 500 – Law, Ethics, and Corporate Governance, 2012). In this type of behavior the company has every right to terminate both the employee and the supervisor which is exactly what should be done. The Employment-At-Will Doctrine gives the company the authority to do so and if a large number of company personnel are aware of the relationship it will look bad on the company if they don’t handle the situation in that way.
It could lead employees into believing that company supervisors are above the law and are not required to answer to the same policies that other employees are required to adhere to. The appropriate measures were given to prevent this type of behavior from happening; the employees were given the policy during the New Employee Orientation as well as each employee was also given a copy of the policy by receiving an employee handbook. If the supervisor had conducted the behavior intentionally to get the employee terminated then the employee would have a legitimate argument to appeal if the supervisor wasn’t terminated as well.
This would be one of the exceptions to the Employment-At-Will Doctrine. The behavior on the part of the employee and the supervisor in this case was unacceptable and the appropriate action the company would need to take would be to terminate both employees’ (At-will employment – overview, 2013). Conclusion Employment-at-will basically means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason and doesn’t have to justify their actions unless the action were illegal or the reason feel under one of the common law exceptions.
There are three common law exceptions which are public policy, implied contract and covenant of good faith. Public policy is the most widely recognized common law exception, and it protects employees against adverse employment actions that violate a public interest. Examples of some of these might be 1) to refuse to commit perjury in a trial, 2) reporting an employer’s fraudulent accounting practices and 3) joining the National Guard or performing jury duty (At-will employment – overview, 2013).
An implied contract may be legitimate just from a supervisor making an oral statement or an employer representative. An employer representative can be anyone who is known to be knowledgeable about the company and its employment history. An example could be if someone stated, “We need good people around here, you’ve got a job for life! ” or “We don’t dismiss employees without giving them a chance to correct their behavior”. These are some examples where an exception to the Employment-At-Will Doctrine might apply (At-will employment – overview, 2013).
An implied covenant of good faith has varied from requiring just cause for termination to prohibiting terminations that are made in bad faith or motivated with intent to cause harm. An example of bad faith terminations might include an employer firing an older employee so the company wouldn’t have pay that employee retirement benefits or terminating a salesman just before they would be eligible for a large commission (At-will employment – overview, 2013).