Dismissal Law in the United States: The Past and Present of At-Will Employment

Source: Katherine V.W. Stone, UCLA School of Law, Law-Econ Research Paper No. 09-03, February 19, 2009

From the abstract:
This article, written for the International Collaborative Project on Social Europe, discusses the contract of employment in the United States, focusing on developments in the employment at will doctrine and the state of dismissal protection. This article begins by noting that in the employment area, there is a particularly wide disjunction between the law as it is written and articulated by judges, and the actual practice of labor relations. The author argues that in the area of dismissal, both the law on the books and the law in action are in flux at the present time. Moreover, she demonstrates that although each is changing, they are both changing in opposite directions. Some recent judicial developments involve the imposition of terms and on-going obligations on the heretofore at-will relationship, thereby transforming the at-will employment contract into a contract with some fixed rights and obligations. However, at the same time, there have been changes in human resource practices by which firms have repudiated long-term attachment, embraced a free agency model of employment, and sought to change employee expectations of job security. The article concludes with some observations about how courts might bridge these two opposing trends.

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