Employment-at-will Doctrine




The employment-at-will doctrine is a human resource framework underwhich there is a presumption that an individual can be dismissed fromemployment without any reason (Elgar, 2012). According to theUnited States’ labor laws, the employer reserves a given level ofauthority to terminate the services of their personnel. The doctrinehas been necessitated by the past rulings by judges with regards tothe employment relationships. The decision to terminate the servicesof employees depends on a series of factors (Muhl, 2001). Foremployees that have a job contract, the document contains the termsand conditions and the instances of which one is likely to lose theirjobs. As such, there is an agreement on the instances under which anemployee is likely to be dismissed. Those that do not have anemployment contract are referred to as the at-will employees. Theycan be dismissed by the employers at any time so long as all thelegal guidelines are followed effectively.

Some of the conditions under which the at-will employees cannot bedismissed include issues relating to their gender or whistleblowing(Muhl, 2001). The federal and state laws have provisions that protectsuch kinds of workers from being sacked. The at-will employee alsohas the freedom to quit their job at any time. They do not have todeclare their reasons for leaving and cannot be forced to work for anorganization against their will (Muhl, 2001). This paper willidentify three cases and determine the application of theemployment-at-will doctrine applies and the existence if any forms ofexceptions. Additionally, it will discuss the steps that should betaken to minimize liability and other the ethical theory for eachdecision. Finally, it will provide an in—depth analysis of theemployment-at-will doctrine for a particular state.

Question 1

The first instance relates to the actions of Bill who has been usingthe company-issued BlackBerry to run his own business on the side.This is an actual violation of the company’s policies and amountsto the misuse of company property for personal use. In this case,Bill should face disciplinary proceedings after which his servicescan be terminated by the enterprise. Misuse of company assets amountsto a gross violation of the firm’s terms and conditions ofemployment. However, before being dismissed, the management mustensure that Bill has violated the codes in the company’s handbook.This is to make sure that the corporation is not subjected toenormous lawsuits arising from the misuse of property owned by thebusiness organization. The exceptions would be in the form of companypolicies that is not unique to the use of BlackBerry issued by thefirm. In such cases, the employee will not be considered to haveviolated any of the employee’s terms of service (Elgar,2012).

In the second case, a supervisor has requested for permission todismiss one of the employees for insubordination. The secretary,whose dismissal is being sought has over the years performeddiligently. On further inquiry, it is established that she is facingthe sack for failing to prepare false expense for her boss. Thesecretary should be dismissed from employment since she has notcommitted any form of crime. In fact, she has been beneficial to thecompany by blowing the whistle on the activities of one of the senioremployees. She has done her duties diligently and dealt appropriatelywith potential fraud. There are specific federal provisions thatprotect such individuals from any form of retaliation. She has shownhigh levels of ethical standards by not perpetuating fraudulentactivities. Another exception that should be taken intoconsideration, in this case, relates to the violation ofconstitutional rights of the secretary. The law stipulates that allthe rules introduced within an organization should violate theconstitution of the nation (Elgar, 2012).

The final case relates to an employee that has threatened to sue thecompany as a result of being disciplined. Joe, the employee, wasfound to have sent have used his personal mail in criticizing aclient. After being punished for his actions, he has threatened tosue the company for having invaded his privacy. The decision onwhether to terminate the services of Joe will depend on a series offactors. First, the management will have to consider whether he hasan employment contract and whether his actions violated the terms andconditions of the agreement. Additionally, it will be essential toconsider whether his actions violated the ethical requirements ascontained in the company handbook. After that, it will be possible todetermine whether his dismissal is within the legal framework of thebusiness’s operations. The exceptions to the employment-at-willdoctrine would include the provisions of the federal and stateregulations with regards to invasion of employee privacy. It will,therefore, be prudent to establish the steps that were taken by thecompany in accessing the employee’s private email.

If it is determined that the dismissal of the employees by the firmwas illegal, there are massive repercussions that are likely to bewitnessed. The employees can sue the business organization to massiveamounts. To avoid these detrimental outcomes, the businessorganization should consider developing various mechanisms to limitliabilities (Elgar, 2012). The company must ensure that itshandbook highlights cases under which it can dismiss its employees.In addition to this, the constitutional provisions should be takeninto consideration in the decision-making process.

Question 2

The State of Pennsylvania has over the years adopted theemployment-at-will doctrine. The state subscribes to that form ofemployment, and this was highlighted during the Stumpp v. StroudsburgMunicipal Authority 540 Pa. 391, 396 (1995). As a result, theemployment contracts and the services of an employee may beterminated at the discretion of the management (Santucci, 2011).Decisions regarding employment are the prerogatives of the employers.However, the employee is given the opportunity to resign at any timewithout giving prior notice to the employer. The first case ofemployment-at-will in Pennsylvania was reported in 1974 during theGeary v. United States Steel Corp. 456 Pa. 171, 184 and it sentprecedence for all other subsequent cases (Santucci, 2011).

A case that featured recently was in Hamovitz v. Santa BarbaraApplied Research Inc., 2010 WL 4117270 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2010) inwhich the plaintiff stated that the employer had refused to rehirehim as a result of his service in the National Guard (Santucci,2011). The case led to the development of a new exception in theemployment-at-will legislations in Pennsylvania. The courtsestablished that the employer had infringed on the protected rightsof the employee (Santucci, 2011). The management might also haveviolated the rights of the employee under the Pennsylvania MilitaryAffairs Act (PMAA). The courts, therefore, allowed the wrongfuldischarge claim to proceed (Santucci, 2011).


Elgar, Edward. (2012). Research handbook on the economics of laborand employment law. Cheltenham, UK:http://site.ebrary.com/id/10640753.

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Muhl, C. (2001). The employment-at-will doctrine: three majorexceptions. Monthly Labor Review, 2001

Santucci, A. (2011). Federal Court Creates New Exception toPennsylvania At Will Employment Doctrine. Pennsylvania Labor andEmployment.

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