Employment-at-will doctrine

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The Employment-At-Will doctrine is a presumption that employment is usually for an imprecise time and can be ended by the employee or the employer. This has usually been considered as the legal framework used by courts in interpreting employment relationships through history. A chief operating officer in a middle income company that is getting ready for the first public offering needs to settle the personnel cases that have been presented. Analysis of these cases will require the application of the employment-at-will policy in ensuring that the right judgment has been arrived at regarding their conduct.

The cases presented need to be resolved before the company goes public. In the first scenario, John has publicized a rant on his facebook page critiquing one of the most essential customers to the business. It is the responsibility of the company to treat its customers fairly, which means that the customer has been treated unfairly by one of its employees. In this case, John used his own facebook page, which distances the involvement of the company in criticizing the customer. This therefore means that John was intentionally treating the customer unfairly, which is against the policies of the company. According to Halbert, employees cannot be fired for trying to organize a union (Halbert, 2014). However, John was not organizing any union and there was no good cause for him posting the rant on his facebook page.

Given the facts presented, John needs to be fired for violating the policies of the company. As a midsize company preparing to go public, the company needs to treat its employees fairly, which John violated as per his actions. Having had criticized the most important customer of the company, the company is now in jeopardy of losing the customer, which might affect its sales. John`s termination will therefore be for a ‘good cause,’ which is meant to create a better relationship between the employees and the customers. The decision is also supported by ethics of care, which reinforces interpersonal relationships (Ahner, 2007).

The second case involves an employee (Ellen) who started a blog in objection of CEO`s bonus noting how other employees under him have not managed to get a raise in two years. According to the blog also, Ellen stated that her bosses were “out of touch” and “know-nothings.” In analysis of her case, Ellen has presented her concerns about the employees below the CEO not having a raise for two years is genuine and acceptable (Fernando, 2011). However, her labels of her bosses as “out of touch” and “know-nothings” can be considered as insults. Even though the first amendment mentions of freedom of speech, it is unacceptable for her to use offensive language against her bosses.

According to the employment-at-will policy, Ellen can be fired. Ellen has gone against the morals of the company and has actually disrespected the management, which based on the facts presented can only call for her being fired. Even if the company does not have a whistleblowers policy,   it would have been against the morals of the company to label her bosses as “out of touch” and “know-nothings.” The decision can be supported by the virtue theory. The virtue of ethics emphasizes on moral character as the guiding principle on how people are expected to live (Fernando, 2011). The expressions by Ellen reveal her character, which cannot be condoned within the company`s environment.

In the third scenario, one of the department supervisors has sought consent to stop  his secretary for insubordination. Upon investigation, it was found that she had declined to make untruthful expense reports. In this particular case, the secretary proved to be a professional employee by failing to engage in misconduct. As per the employment-at-will, it would be illegal to fire the secretary. Given that the company is going public, she would be protected by the Sarbanes –Oxley Act, which makes it a requirement that all public companies should have effective internal controls that reduce instances of fraud (Fernando, 2011). Even though the company does not have a whistleblowers policy, she can sue the company once it goes public, which would jeopardize the operations of the company. Actually, the focus of her case should be transferred to the department supervisor who tried to initiate false expense reports. The ethical theory that would be applied in this case is the deontological theory, which states that the morality of an action is guided by duty (Ahner, 2007). The chief operating officer is charged with the duty of ensuring that all operations within the company are in line with the company`s policies and the law. Therefore, it would be morally unjust as per the deontological theory to fire the secretary.

Texas is considered an employment-at-will state. When a state is considered as employment-at-will, it implies that the court uses this approach as a framework in dealing with employment relationships. The two exceptions where this policy is not considered as relevant are when the employees are in certain contracts with the employer and when the employees are members of a union. According to the employment-at-will policy, the employer can fire the employee for a good cause, bad cause, or no bad cause at all. As per the policy however, the employer cannot fire an employee illegally since the fired employee can sue for wrongful termination (Clark, 2011). The policy also means that an employee can leave their job at any time and for any reason, which implies that the employment relationship is usually voluntary.

A recent case, Safeshred Inc. v. Martinez is a perfect example of a case involving the application of the employment-at-will policy. The case was reported in 2012 where the employer, Safeshred, Inc. fired Martinez for refusing to drive a truck that did not comply with safety rules. Martinez sued for wrongful termination and won and was awarded punitive damages. In this case, the employment-at-will would not be applicable since Martinez was fired illegally for failing to commit an illegal act (Ernsterfirm.com, 2016). This case clearly shows the boundaries on which the employment-at-will can be applied.

In summary, the employment-at-will policy defines the connection between the employer and the employee. According to the policy, an employee can be fired by the employer ether for good, bad or no reason at all. The policy implies that the relationship between the employer and the employee is voluntary and can be terminated by either party at any time. However, it would be illegal to fire an employee for failing to commit an illegal action, race discrimination, or exercising their legal rights. The recent case by Safeshred v. Martinez is a perfect example of a case involving the application of the employment-at-will policy in Texas.

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  1. Clark, L. S., Kinder, P. D., & Hotchkiss, C. (2011). Law and business: The regulatory environment. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  2. Ernsterfirm.com, (2016). Texas Truck Driver Wrongful Termination Lawsuit. Retrieved from http://www.ernsterfirm.com/texas-truck-driver-wrongful-termination-lawsuit/
  3. Fernando, A. C. (2011). Business environment. New Delhi: Pearson.
  4. Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (2014). Law and ethics in the business environment. Mason, OH: West Legal Studies
  5. Ahner, E. C. (2007). Business ethics. New York: Orbis.
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