The Employment Doctrine That Screws Over Workers

Source: Moshe Z. Marvit, Jacobin, August 7, 2018

It’s called “at-will employment.” But for workers, it simply means employers hold all the cards.

Last week, over a hundred Latino workers mounted a wildcat strike at a UPS facility to protest the actions of a racist supervisor. One of their coworkers, Antoine Dangerfield, took out his phone and began filming the walkout, his excitement growing as he realized what he was witnessing. Dangerfield posted the video online, where it quickly netted millions of views. Shortly after, his employer offered Dangerfield $250 to take the video down. Dangerfield explained to them that that’s not how the internet works, and that he couldn’t remove the video. So, they fired him.

This may seem like a bad reason to fire someone, and Dangerfield’s employer may even admit that it was a bad reason to fire him — but it is still probably legal. That’s because the US, for the most part, follows the at-will rule of employment, where an employee can be terminated for good cause, bad cause, or no cause at all. (Montana is the only state that has some form of just-cause rule.)

…. An employee’s right to quit her job stems from her right to be free from involuntary servitude. An employer may be inconvenienced when an employee up and leaves, but rarely is the whole enterprise put in jeopardy. When an employee is pink-slipped, on the other hand, they lose their livelihoods, their health insurance, and potentially their homes and other assets. Far from creating a balance in the relationship, the at-will rule tilts things toward the employer — who already has outsized power. ….

….The other major exception to the at-will rule is contractually negotiated just-cause. This largely exists for two groups of employees: unionized workers and high-level executives…..