Just Notice: Re-Reforming Employment At-Will for the 21st Century

Source: Rachel S. Arnow-Richman, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, February 11, 2010

From the abstract:
This Article proposes a fundamental shift in the movement to reform employment termination law. For forty years, there has been a near consensus among employee advocates and worklaw scholars that the current doctrine of employment at will should be abandoned in favor of a rule requiring just cause for termination. This Article contends that such calls are misguided, not (as defenders of the current regime have argued) because it grants workers too much protection vis-à-vis management, but because it grants them too little.

A just cause rule provides only a weak cause of action to a narrow subset of workers – those able to prove their firing was for purely arbitrary reasons. It fails to account for the justifiable, but still devastating, termination of workers for economic reasons, by far the most common reason for job loss today. In this way, the rule is not only inadequate, but anachronistic. Just cause protection is consistent with a mid-twentieth century view of the social contract of employment, which anticipates a long-term, symbiotic relationship between employer and employee in an economy dependent on internal labor markets. Under such a system, the just cause rule gave legal force to parties’ social contract of employment.

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