Employment-At-Will doctrine

Employment-At-Will doctrine
Employment-At-Will doctrine

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Employment-At-Will doctrine

The at-will doctrine is rooted in American employment practice. It is worth mentioning that amongst the world’s developed countries, America is the one that is still using it. This paper provides a summary of the employment-at-will doctrine and evaluates three scenarios out of those described by specifying whether I can sack the worker legally, and the actions that I should take in order to limit liability and impact on business operations. Furthermore, California’s policy on employment-at-will is examined.

The employment-at-will doctrine is essentially the supposition that employment is for an indefinite time period and might be ended at any time either by the worker or the employer. Courts have taken this historical approach in their interpretation of employment relationships (Stone, 2011). This implies that an employer could sack a worker for no reason or for whichever reason.

Unless the employee has an employment contract which particularly spells out that he or she would be employed by the employer and work in that organization for a specific time period, or that the employee might only be sacked for good reason, then that worker is regarded an at-will employee (Stone, 2011). 

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Based on the employment-at-will doctrine and after evaluating 3 of the 6 scenarios, I have determined that I can legally fire John, Ellen and Bill. John would be sacked for posting a rant on a social media website where he criticized the most significant client for the company.

Ellen would be dismissed for starting a blog to protest the bonus of the company’s Chief Executive Officer, claiming that nobody below the director has been given a pay raise in 2 years and depicted her superiors as being out-of-touch and know-nothings. Bill would be fired because he used the BlackBerry issued to him by the company to run his own business on the side. I will fire them because the employment-at-will doctrine allows me to fire the at-will employees at any time, for no reason at all or for any reason.

To limit liability as well as impact on operations that are brought about by adverse employment decisions, the employer has to take a number of actions for instance making use of disclaimers when the company hires new workers. The contract for employment has to include the employment terms and length. Furthermore, an effective grievance procedure and discipline policy should be established in the firm. Prior to making major decisions with regard to workers, the employer should first review the issue in a careful manner and obtain legal guidance (McCulloch, 2014).

A company can be sued if it fires a worker who is protected by the exceptions of the at-will doctrine. The ethical theory which applies to this course of actions is the deontological ethics: people, including employees of a company, have to be treated as ends themselves but not as means to an end.

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My state is California. This state is an at-will employment state and abides by the Doctrine of Employment At-Will. The doctrine describes the most widespread employment relationship in which either party might mutually end the relationship with no fear of liability. As per this doctrine in California, any hiring by employers is assumed as being at will employment, and employers are free to dismiss the worker for no reason, for a bad reason, or for a good reason. The worker is also equally free to quit working at the company without any notice or with notice (Nassiri Law Group, 2014).

However, there are 3 main exceptions to this doctrine in California. These exceptions address terminations which, even though are theoretically compliant with this doctrine, the courts and legislature of California have concluded that they are intrinsically unfair.

These exceptions are as follows:

Implied contract exception – the courts in California would not apply the employment-at-will doctrine when the employee handbook requires good reason for job termination or guarantees the worker job tenure or when the employers make written or oral representations to their workers with regard to job security (McCulloch, 2014).

Therefore, a court in this state made a ruling that oral statements which say that the worker would remain on the job provided that her job performance is satisfactory could be interpreted as creating an implied contract that prevents at-will employment terminations.

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Against public policy – according to this exception, it is an illegal termination of employment if that termination is in violation of a well-established and explicit policy of California State. As such, an employer cannot discharge a worker when that employee files a worker’s compensation claim or when the worker refuses to violate the law at the employer’s instruction (McCulloch, 2014). For example, a secretary cannot be dismissed because of refusing to prepare falsified expenditure reports for her boss.

Covenant of good faith exception – in the state of California, certain circumstances for instance adequate service and long years of employment could create an implied covenant of fair dealing and good faith that may prevent a worker from being terminated at will by his or her employer (Simas & Associates Ltd, 2015). In addition, at-will workers have rights and their employers cannot discharge them for unlawful reasons like in retaliation for exercising employee rights or due to job discrimination.

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The following is a real-world example of a worker in California who used California’s employment-at-will doctrine in the year 2013. A previous power line employee won a wrongful termination court case and was granted in excess of one million dollars in the lawsuit. This worker had worked for the electric firm for roughly 8 years when the company asked him and his crew members to replace an electricity pole which was damaged.

The supervisor of this worker told the crew to conduct the repairs without shutting off the power to the line. Even though the employee and his crew finished the repair works satisfactorily, it was very dangerous. If the high-voltage wires had touched one another, a huge explosion would have occurred (Nassiri Law Group, 2014). About 30 days later, another electric crew was sent to perform repairs on the same power line but the company allowed them to shut the power off leaving roughly 107 of the firm’s clients with not electricity. 

The worker who had carried out the task with the live wires filed a safety complaint. In the claim, he stated that he felt unsafe in the place of work and that he suffered panic attacks, anxiety and even depression. He took a medical leave of absence and his supervisor sacked him through a voicemail message. The employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit and the court ordered $1 million in damages.

The employer was also ordered to pay for the attorney fees of the worker (Nassiri Law Group, 2014). In California State, it is unlawful to fire a worker if the termination is in violation of the public policy of this state. Therefore, it was against the law for the employer to sack the power line worker for the wrong reasons.  

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To sum up, based upon the employment-at-will doctrine and after examining three of the 6 scenarios, I have concluded that I could lawfully dismiss John, Ellen and Bill. The employment-at-will doctrine permits the company to discharge at-will employees at any time, for no reason at all or for any reason. In my state of California, the exceptions to this doctrine include against public policy exception, covenant of good faith exception, and implied contract exception.


McCulloch, M. (2014). California employment law: What is employment at will? Marcarian Law Firm. Retrieved from http://www.marcarianlaw.com/california-employment-law-what-is-employment-at-will/

Nassiri Law Group. (2014). California worker wins wrongful termination lawsuit. Orange, CA: NLG.

Simas & Associates Ltd. (2015). Exceptions to at-will employment in California. Administrative, Health care & Employment Law. Retrieved from http://simasgovlaw.com/media/blog/exceptions-to-at-will-employment-in-california/

Stone, K.V. (2011). Revisiting the at-will employment doctrine: Imposed terms, implied terms, and the normative world of the workplace. Industrial Law Journal, 36(1), 84-101.

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