Employment At Will Doctrine

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24 March 2016

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•Summarize the employment-at-will doctrine and evaluate each of the eight (8) scenarios described by determining: The employment-at-will doctrine states that an employee can be fired or released from a company for cause or no cause at all. The employee also has the right to quit a job for any reason. Under this legislation, neither the employer or employee incurs “adverse legal consequences” (NCSL, 2014). There are three exceptions that are observed by the law to include a dismissal that “violates a state’s public policy, where there is an implied contract for employment, or where there is an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” (Muhl, 2001, p4). People cannot be fired based on the “individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012, p134). An individual can also not be fired based on a disability or due to filing a workman’s comp claim.

Imagine you are a recently-hired Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a midsize company preparing for an Initial Public Offering (IPO). You quickly discover multiple personnel problems that require your immediate attention. As an astute manager, you will need to analyze the employment-at-will doctrine and determine what, if any, exceptions and liabilities exist before taking any action. oWhether you can legally fire the employee; include an assessment of any pertinent exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. oWhat action you should take to limit liability and impact on operations; specify which ethical theory best supports your decision.

•John posted a rant on his Facebook page in which he criticized the company’s most important customer. John’s actions took place on his own time, and the information was posted on his personal site. The action from the company would depend on whether John made the post and none of his coworkers chimed in or agreed with him, or if someone did agree with him. Concerted activity is protected under the law but not grunts and groaning from one employee. According to Eidelson (2012), “concerted activity will take different forms for different workers”. Quite simply put, John’s post could cause a loss of business for the company or even a disgruntled customer, not to mention the company’s most important customer. The company would be protected in firing him. I made this decision based on the Ethics of Care. John made a comment about our most important customer, and it is the company’s business to make sure the customer continues to be our most important customer.

•Jim sent an email to other salespeople protesting a change in commission schedules and bonuses and suggesting everyone boycott the next sales meeting. Jim’s case is interesting. The answer to firing him is it depends. If Jim is disgruntled and just decided to send out an email to all of his coworkers to get them roweled up, then he could be fired legally. However, if he had been talking to other employees and then sent them an email to further talk about actions to take, he would be protected under the law as “protected concerted activity” (Eidelson, 2012). Also, the judge may look at Jim’s case to see if he talked with any of the upper management about concerns before trying to get others to boycott. The judge would check to see if Jim was part of a union as well. In one case where an employee sent an email, the judge ruled that her firing was legal, because her email “merely expressed an individual gripe rather than any shared concerns about working conditions” (Newby, 2013).

Since this description did not say that other employees joined in with Jim, the judge would rule that his firing was legal. After firing Jim, I would call a meeting with the rest of the employees to make sure that Jim’s attitude towards the company had not spread to others and to try to find some solutions if it had. I made this decision based on the Virtue Ethics model. •Ellen started a blog to protest the CEO’s bonus, noting that no one below director has gotten a raise in two (2) years and portraying her bosses as “know-nothings” and “out-of-touch”. Ellen started a blog to protest the CEO’s bonus. The employer would need to make sure that Ellen’s post had not been commented on by other employees who were in agreement with her. The company should also look to its’ social media policy if it has one. The employer could be covered if the policy states that employees cannot speak derogatorily about their boss or coworkers online.

The “National Labor Relations Act states that workers have the right to discuss their wages and conditions of employment”; however, “griping or ranting by a single employee is not protected” (Rogers, 2013). Ellen stepped across the line by criticizing the CEO of the company and calling him names. This could cause a rift in the company and lower morale. The company would be justified in firing Ellen. I would do this based on Deontology which focuses on rights and duties, telling the truth and fairness (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012, p17). •Bill has been using his company-issued BlackBerry to run his own business on the side. Bill was given the company-issued BlackBerry to use for work. As I read in most articles, it is expected that in this digital age employees will use their employers’ equipment for some type of personal use. Most companies have policies on the use of company equipment. If Bill is a good employee, there is no loss of productivity, and the majority of his personal business is taking place during off-time, Bill should not be fired, and it would not be deemed legal, unless the company’s policy says something different.

The company’s policy should be “clearly communicated to all employees and” and be “consistently enforced” as well (BizFilings, 2012). Bill should be aware that the employer ”generally can monitor, listen in and record employee phone calls on employer owned phones” to include “voice mail and text messages” (Bussing, 2011). So if his employer found that he was exchanging insider information about the company through the company BlackBerry, they would be justified in firing him. I chose this course of action based on Virtue Ethics. If Bill feels his employer trusts him, he will most likely remain trustworthy and honest to the company.

•The secretaries in the accounting department decided to dress in black-and-white stripes to protest a memo announcing that the company has installed keylogger software on all company computers. The secretaries could not be legally fired in this instance. The secretaries would also be covered under the National Labor Relations Act. They are silently protesting the keylogger software. There is more than one person involved in this silent protest and they have the right to discuss “conditions of employment” (Rogers, 2013). I chose this based on the Ethics of Care. The secretaries obviously do not agree with a new procedure in the workplace. The upper management should not come down on them for that. The secretaries are quietly organizing themselves, and they should have the right to disagree.

•After being disciplined for criticizing a customer in an email (sent from his personal email account on a company computer), Joe threatens to sue the company for invasion of privacy. Company computers are company computers. The company has the right to information that is sent on its’ computers, especially during work hours. Joe should not be discussing work business through his personal emails. Joe would not be covered under the First Amendment, because it “protects all of us from the government, not from private companies” (NOLO, 2014). I chose this action based on Free Market Ethics. This model focuses on what is good for the company. Joe cannot stay with the company while criticizing the customers, especially through his personal email at work. If the company keeps Joe around and the information gets out, it could lose more than it would by letting him go.

•One of the department supervisors requests your approval to fire his secretary for insubordination. Since the secretary has always received glowing reviews, you call her into your office and determine that she has refused to prepare false expense reports for her boss. The secretary’s firing would not be justified in this situation. Although the secretary is an employee at will who could be fired for cause or no reason at all, it appears that the secretary is being retaliated against for refusing to prepare corrupt documents. The secretary’s reviews have always been great, so there is no presence of a developmental plan or previous violations of company policy. The company most likely has some type of policy for progressive discipline, so if the supervisor did not follow the plan to the letter, the firing would not be justified. I chose this action based on Deontology. The employer has the obligation to be honest and to remain steadfast “to universal principles” (Halbert & Ingulli, 2012, p17).

•Anna’s boss refused to sign her leave request for jury duty and now wants to fire her for being absent without permission. Anna’s boss could not legally fire her due to serving jury duty. “Most states prohibit employers from firing or disciplining employees called to serve on a jury“ and some states “prohibit employers from trying to discourage or intimidate employees from serving” (NOLO, 2014). Anna’s boss could be “held in contempt of court” if Anna did not show up to court because of her employer’s decision (Gordon, 2012). I chose this action based on Utilitarianism, because the choice of firing Anna due to attending jury duty may have a detrimental effect on the entire workplace. As you proceed with your investigation, you discover the company has no whistleblower policy.

•Take a position on whether or not you would recommend to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) that the company adopt a whistleblower policy. Support the position. I would recommend to the CEO that the company adopt a whistleblower policy. It is important to have such a policy so that people know the proper steps to take when disclosing information of wrongdoing in the workplace and know that they will be protected for sharing such information. In the situation between the supervisor and his secretary, a whistleblowing policy could have exposed the issue earlier. It seemed that the secretary did not tell anyone about the supervisor pressuring her to create false documents, until she was faced with losing her job.

•Justify at least three (3) fundamental items that should be included in a whistleblower policy. Provide a rationale for your selection of each of the three (3) recommended items. The first item that should be included in a whistleblower policy is the “responsibility to disclose that information to appropriate parties inside the organization” (Barnett, 1992). The employees are the ones who are going to see the wrongdoing most likely. Without laying the responsibility on the employees, they may not know how important it is to the company and may not feel supported in their efforts to share information. This part of the policy should also include that the process will take place within the organization and that all information given should be done so “in good faith” (Barnett, 1992). The second item that should be included in a whistleblowing policy is a group of neutral people “outside the chain of command as complaint recipients” (Barnett, 1992).

This should make people feel more comfortable sharing violations, because they don’t have to worry about backlash from sharing information. It would make it much harder for an employee to disclose information to the group if he knew the person he was telling on was best friends with someone on the committee. Finally, the policy should outline the steps of the investigation process and give assurance to the whistleblower that there will be no “adverse employment consequences” (Barnett, 1992). The Whistleblower Acts should also be included in the employee handbook so that employees not only understand the policy within their current workplace, but as it is stated by the government. The employee will know what is covered and what is not.


Barnett, T. (1992). Why Your Company Should Have a Whistleblowing Policy.Retrieved May 4th, 2014, from http://ethics.csc.ncsu.edu /old/12_00/basics/whistle/rst/wstlblo_policy.html BizFilings. (2012). Using Policies to Address Employees’ Personal Use of BusinessEquipment. Retrieved May 4th, 2014, from

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