SPECIAL EDITION

In the May 12, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter we launch the new Guest Voices section and get a lawyer’s view of employment at-will.

Top executives don’t often accept jobs without employment contracts in the United States. These contracts define the terms of employment including job title, compensation, what happens upon termination, and much more. It’s why you read about executives departing companies with tasty severance deals and money in their pockets without complaint. They work out these deals when they get hired and lock them in place legally.

guest voicesWorking without a net

Everyone else gets a job offer letter. This means you. Why are executives protected, while you accept a job offer to work without a safety net?

In some cases, you might not even get a written job offer. It’s purely verbal. Many job offer letters even negate their own terms with a big gotcha: They state that the terms may be changed at any time by the employer, and that the employee policy manual supersedes any other representations. (Ever accept a job to do one thing, only to find yourself assigned to a different job you never agreed to? That’s what I’m talking about.)

This is why employment in the U.S. — for most workers in most states — is referred to as “employment at-will.” That means you can quit a job at any time, and it also means your employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason or no reason, and you have no recourse.

Only in America

According to HR Daily Advisor:

The world’s employment law regimes really divide into two parts: there’s employment at-will — which is only the U.S. — and then there’s everybody else.

In Europe, for example, employment contracts (or agreements) are routine and run several pages long. Employers cannot terminate employees at will or without reason and severance pay is defined.

The reason employment contracts are used is simple: Good contracts make for good business relationships and ensure everyone plays by a negotiated set of rules from the outset.

The bogus-ness of employment at-will

I’ve seen it again and again. A company hires someone and rescinds the offer before they start the job, but after the new hire has cancelled their apartment lease and incurred the costs to move to a new city.

Or a long-time employee is terminated without explanation and immediately ushered out the door, right after the mystified employee received top scores in their performance review.

Or a worker is suddenly reassigned to a different job with lower pay and told it’s that way or the highway, and their only other choice is to quit — also known as bait and switch.

I’m sure you have your own examples.

Working without a written contract is bogus. And it’s entirely legal because the corporate lobby is more powerful than any bunch of employees. So at-will employment is the law. And that needs to change if the U.S. is to be a competitive power-house nation once again and have full employment. I’m going to let a leading employment lawyer explain it to you in just a moment.

Guest Voices: New feature!

This edition of Ask The Headhunter marks the launch of a new feature: Guest Voices. The purpose of Guest Voices is to share with you the thoughts, experiences and advice of smart people who will make you slap your head and exclaim, “Wish I’d known that!”

In the inaugural edition of Guest Voices, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Mark Carey, a partner at Carey & Associates, P.C., a Connecticut-based law firm specializing in employment law. Mark has strong opinions about the importance of employment contracts — and strong objections to employment at-will.

I’ll let him explain it in his new article, Employment At-Will vs. The LeBron James Rule. You can’t afford to miss what this leading employment lawyer has to say about your next job offer!

Add your voice!

Our job is to pile on in the comments section of Mark’s article and to share stories and opinions — pro or con — on employment at-will and on employment contracts. This is a controversial topic that deserves the scrutiny our community is known for.

I hope you’ll join us! We’ll be hearing from not just from experts, but also from regular people whose stories and insights will make you slap your head — in the new Guest Voices section of Ask The Headhunter! I welcome your comments and your suggestions for new topics.

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41 Comments
  1. First off, if you want to go this route, you’d have to deal with temp and consulting work, which Big Business would resort to if you only touched direct hire.

    • I worked as a consultant recently, and the contract I signed was terminated mid-stream (supposedly the client asked for it). So contracts don’t always protect you.

      • @Bob P: Sounds like someone “allowed” a contract to be terminated, no? My guess is you got hurt, but neither the employer or contracting firm suffered.

    • @Mongoose — No kidding! Business already uses contracts for temp and consulting work, primarily between employer and consulting/temp firm. It’s B to B.

      Then they pretend they can’t hire individuals under contracts!

    • This has already been happening in the tech sector for over 10 years. The tech giants “GAFAM” now utilize contractors for at least 50% of their labor. It’s called human capital for a reason, everyone is a commodity, except the investor class.

  2. Also, and maybe I’m not understanding this right, but if you’re going more to contract work, then what happens if, say, midway through your contract, your boss leaves and gets replaced with a complete controlling jerk? Would you be allowed to leave midway through or would they slash your pay and benefits (or flat out refuse to let you leave) if you wanted out or if you looked and found something else better?

    • @Mongoose: Please don’t confuse the contracts companies use when they rent workers from a third party. We’re talking about employment contracts directly between the employer and employee — no middle men.

  3. Also, another concern, and one I’ve heard does happen in Europe, is that there is the danger of them deciding to hire fewer people (due to it being harder to fire) and making 1 guy do the job of 5 now.

    FYI, I agree that at-will has huge problems under the current system, I just think that switching over to your system isn’t without its downsides/pitfalls.

    • Being from Europe myself I can share that the concern you mentioned is a valid one, but in organized and disciplined EU countries (France, Germany) there is also a mandated number of hours you are required (allowed) to work per week. What you do in let’say 45hrs week is what you do. Additional tasks and duties (for other 4 people as you suggested) will be left out – if they don’t fit in that 45hrs week. Please note, I am referring to organized and disciplined countries not any EU country, where we surely can observe all kinds of irregular behavior (delayed salary payments, corruption, hiring friends and famnily etc).

      Another method present over there is – strike. When employees feel pressed, left out, basically cheated – they turn to strikes. Even though I used to hate that while living there (stops regular daily life routines), corrupt employers understand the strike language very well and will modify their behavior under a pressure of such an organized event

    • @Mongoose: If a company needs 10 employees to do the work, then the work must require 10 workers. The challenge is to hire the right workers to begin with so you don’t have to cast them aside and try again. That’s an entirely different issue from running a revolving-door business that stays in business because it can fire quickly and easily when it makes hiring mistakes.

    • I heard of an Italian company that passed up a venture capital opportunity to expand its business, and hire more workers. If the expansion failed, reducing the work force would have been nearly impossible under Italian labor laws.

  4. Good article, but there is one big problem: What if the employee does not have a LeBron negotiating strength? The employer may simply refuse to put anything in writing, because they can.

    The obvious answer therefore is to level the playing field by increasing labour power: Unionize.

    • Karsten,

      Unionizing is not the answer, as unions are corrupt by their own power. We have never witnessed a union represent an employee beyond merely filing a grievance. They will always tip their heads management every single time. The real answer is in every employee singularly saying she does not want to work on an at-will basis and demand a for cause and for good reason termination agreement.

      • I am Norwegian, so I cannot comment on unions in general in the US. But, yes, unions can be corrupt by their own power, that has happened here in Norway too. But IMHO, your sweeping generalization throws the baby out with the water, and assumes all unions are the same, which they clearly are not. Some unions get corrupt and too mighty, others will behave responsibly.

        Unions can also serve as a useful tool of balancing power – because that is what this really is about: Power, pure and simple. I have had colleagues who have enjoyed legal assistance by their unions in e.g. downsizing processes; where the company was forced to give much better severance packages than they had planned.

        I am a petroleum geologist with six-figure salary, a PhD and solid experience, so I have some negotiation leverage towards employers. Nevertheless, I am also a member of a union, which was useful especially during work for a previous company, when I could call out incompetent management without fear of being walked to the door (there are also some protection by law in Norway) and for legal advice during the fall of the company (they did not listen to the call-outs…).

        “The real answer is in every employee singularly saying she does not want to work on an at-will basis” is IMHO incredibly naive. It may work if you have some negotiation leverage and enough money in the bank to say no to a job, but many are not in that situation. If they do not accept at will, the prospective employer may simply call the next in queue. It is really a situation of game theory, which is amplified by the fact that mergers have created bigger and more powerful companies; where there previously may have been several prospective employers, they have now merged into one.

        • Karsten, you just wrote down everything that was on my mind. Very,very well written.
          One additional element in the game is globalization. Without labeling it as “good” or “bad” it is the fact that many jobs are now published globally. I am in engineering and am seeing PhD level employees with years of experience in India, Pakistan etc .. working for a 1/3 hourly rate than the US counterparts. The framework is a contract at will and the employer can terminate (ant they do) at the end of a contract – or any time for that matter. That is the landscape we are living in. As we are selling our knowledge, skills and time – staying competitive as a hired professional is becoming much more competitive for some professions. Local jobs in service industry are protected though (waiters, cooks, car mechanics, realestate, construction etc) since they can not be outsourced globally.

    • Karsten, “What if the employee does not have a LeBron negotiating strength”? My sentiments exactly. The points proposed in the article may work for those higher up on the food chain, but it’s a pipe dream for the lower-level worker slugging it out daily. As much as you propose unionizing, unions (outside of government and education) are antiquated and dead here in America. I won’t devalue the good they’ve done in our past for workers. But like lifetime employment, or “take care of your job, and it will take care of you”, believing unions will be restored and bring labor reforms is a fantasy here. I have a customer who’s a foundry, and has survived since the late 19th century. Several of the employees are personal friends of mine too. The employees voted in a union (barely passes) to bring down a tyrannical owner a few notches. But the unintended consequences far outweighed what little benefit they received. The juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

    • @Karsten: “What if the employee does not have a LeBron negotiating strength?”

      Indeed. Get some negotiating strength. We can sit around and cheer LeBron on while we pay our money to watch the game — and bemoan our lowly lack of top talent.

      Or we can choose what we want to do, invest in being able to sink the ball EVERY TIME, and grow some leverage. Being an American used to mean “I can do anything.” Today it’s come to mean “I don’t have what I want, so there’s a problem.”

      This is not easy. Sorry if I sound rude. This is very hard. So is the great job or business you want that will make you successful and wealthy. Somebody’s got to start doing the work and letting LeBron sell tickets to everybody else with time on their hands and fantasies only in their minds.

      LeBron got his. Each person needs to get their own negotiating strength, or why bother? Figure out what can make you worth what you want. Inevitably, that involves figuring out what the other guy needs so you can develop the strength required to deliver it so he wants to share the wealth with you.

      The single biggest curse I think people have heaped on their own heads is the conviction that they have to show somebody who they are so they’ll get hired for a job. But it’s not about you. If you want the other guy to share the wealth with you, consider that it’s all about the other guy — learning and grasping what they need so you can create it. That’s where wealth comes from.

      Any good salesman will tell you, shut up, listen, find out what the other guy wants. Go get it and deliver it along with a bill they’re happy to pay. They’re never going to explain to you what they want. Job descriptions? B.S. Interviews? B.S. What they want they won’t tell you. You must figure it out and show them.

      That is where negotiating strength comes from. Don’t let anybody tell you only guys like LeBron have it and you have to sit with your hands folded while you’re given the scraps. It really is on each one of us. That’s the American work ethic. And there is no us-vs.-them about it.

      • Hello Nick:

        Your reply prompts me to ask the question that has bothered me since I read your books. You keep saying things along the lines “the manager is typically bad and figuring out how to match the employee to the job … so it’s the employee’s responsibility to figure that out and demonstrate it during the interview… they’re never going to explain to you what they want”.

        To me it sounds like a typical manager is bad at precisely what he is hired to do. In that case, why is he a manager and why would anyone want to work for him? Essentially, you say my first task as a prospective employee is to do a major part of my prospective the manager’s job, which doesn’t make sense. If I were able and willing to do that, that would make ME a good manager and then I’d go after that inept manager’s job instead of being his subordinate. Did I get something wrong?

        • @Nik: Nope. You’ve got it right. I tell managers that if they’re not spending at least 15-20% of their own time recruiting and interviewing people for current and future job openings, then they’re not doing their jobs as managers.

          But most managers avoid most of that because they’re not good at it. Our next question is, why does the C-suite and the board of directors tolerate such inept management? Why don’t they train managers in those skills? Good questions. It might sound trite, but I think the answer is an old saw: 20% of the people in the company do 80% of the work. Including matching people to jobs.

          Those people are managers anyway because they can get away with it, and they’re allowed to. “It’s HR’s job, not mine!” I think HR tolerates it because it gives HR greater status, power and perceived value.

          My message is not how to fix those managers. My message to job seekers is, understand where and how the employment system fails. Then exploit it. Know how to step in to help the manager so that you can get the job you want.

          Why would you want to work for such a manager? That’s up to you. A good company has lots of jobs. Sometimes you take one that’s not optimal so you can more easily slip into a better one with a better manager. Or, maybe you position yourself to take your boss’s job in the near future.

      • Mark Manson, one of the very few self-help authors worth reading, once wrote that the best with a country also can be the worst:

        “Today, Singapore is one of the richest countries in the world. The island is more or less devoid of crime and poverty. When I visit Singapore, I always feel like I’m visiting the future, like what Manhattan should have become. The city is modern, spotless and perfect. But this appearance of perfection came at a cost. The country is a bit soulless. Everything is designed and catered for financial gain. There’s no history, no identity, no deeper values, no deeper respect for individuals beyond money and productivity. And so, ironically, what is most impressive and admirable about Singapore, is also what is most depressing about it. (…)

        Each cultural trait has advantages and disadvantages. And the more extreme the cultural trait, the more extreme the advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it’s often the most apparent and obvious aspects of each country’s culture that is both the best and the worst about that country.

        For instance, Brazilians often speak proudly of o jeito brasileiro, or “the Brazilian way.” It refers to a typical attitude of being able to cut corners and find the simplest route to success so that one can spend more time relaxing, batting footballs around on the beach, and sipping caipirinhas in the sun. Brazilians take pride in their leisurely ways. (…) But this jeito is the same reason why Brazil, as a country, is a f*****g mess. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to. The government is completely corrupt and the infrastructure is still stuck in the 1970s. It’s both the best and worst thing about Brazilian culture.

        The same could be said for Japanese politeness, for Russian bluntness, for German orderliness, and for American consumerism. They’re both the best and worst things about these countries and cultures. And whenever you take on one, you must be prepared and willing to take on the other.”

        (https://markmanson.net/5-life-lessons-5-years-traveling-world)

        This probably applies to both the US and Scandinavia as well.

        One of the best parts of American culture is the work ethic, the American dream that everyone can take charge of their own destiny, the “I can do anything” attitude Nick mentions. But it has an ugly flip side; a possible implicit message that if things do not go well, it’s your own fault. If you don’t have LeBron negotiating strength, that’s your problem.

        But most people cannot be stars, above average. That happens only in Lake Wobegon. I do not argue against everyone doing their best, finding their competitive advantage, only that it is impossible that most people can get a LeBron netotiation advantage. After all, by definition, half of us have to be below average, but should they not still deserve a decent pay and a contract?

        This is why I find unionization important: By creating the power of a collective, it levels the playing field – the negotiation field – between employee and employer. It evens out the power between big companies and individual employees.

        Recognizing this, that we are all in this together, is one of the ideological backgrounds for the Scandinavian welfare states and unions. This one of the best things about Scandinavia. Its flip side is that Scandinavians may be a bit too complacent regarding personal responsibility.

  5. My entire career is in Europe (France) where there is a high degree of employee protection. It’s correct that businesses prefer to use temporary contracts so that they don’t get locked in with a poorly performing employee that can be very difficult to fire – it can literally kill an SME.
    So the vast majority hire people on a short term 6 or 9 month contract, and if things go well, they’ll switch them to a long term contract. Most long term contracts have 2-3 month trial period during which either party can terminate immediately if they wish. No system is perfect… the high degree of employee protection in France can make it difficult for entrepreneurs to scale up if they’re doing well due to the barriers to hiring flexible staff. That said, I very much prefer the French system to the jungle of the American one, especially because health care is handled by the federal govt, not the employer.

    • France is probably a country which has gone too far into the other ditch; creating a workforce of complacent permanent employees who are almost impossible to get rid off, and a then large force of short term contract workers. IMHO, the best balance (sure, I am biased) would be the Scandinavian model where companies need a reason to fire, and must document it – bad performance, bad behaviour, downsizing, red numbers etc – but where it can be done.

  6. Oncw we are hired “at will,” how do we renegotiate into a contract with protections?

    • @Michael: I doubt any employer is going to renegotiate itself into an employment contract. It’s something I think you’d attempt when you change employers. Unless you’re so important to the business that they can’t afford to lose you.

  7. Every major country today addresses the situation of employer/employee relationship from the same perspective, politics and money. History proves this to be the case. In the USA both dominant parties pander to either the employer or the employee to get elected then re-elected, re-elected, and re-elected. The Democrats have a long history of pretending to be the friend of the worker, especially the minority worker. The Republicans have a history of being in the hip pocket of big business. It’s about using whoever for party and personal gain and power. The worker is a pawn and also collateral damage. Both politicians and big business each have their own agenda and combine to achieve each one’s goal. Big business has gotten government to allow for manufacturing in third world countries and more recently China. The reason cited was cheaper labor, less restriction/laws and hugely inflated profits. American unions were/are powerless to counter this movement.
    There will NEVER be a change to the current American system because of the worker. Everyone is first and foremost focused on their personal advancement or job position for whatever reason. Sure workers complain and cry foul, sometimes with justification, but in the end they all want what gives them emotional satisfaction.
    There are plenty of rationalizations and justifications for one’s stance on this issue but hidden is the personal goal of “getting what’s mine” or “As long as the check clears, I’m fine.” One area that briefly showed promise was making certain categories of positions 1099 or independent contractor but lawyers have intervened to make this difficult to achieve. After reading Mr. Carey’s article, parts of which were interesting, if not elementary; I wasn’t that impressed. He’s still a lawyer.
    As restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic ease, there will be changes made by both government and big business that will impact the employer/employee relationship. And the beat goes on.

    • Interesting perspective and thank you.

      I would disagree on the part where you said (quote):”There will NEVER be a change to the current American system because of the worker? (end quote). I think there will be a change, but it will take time (perhaps a decade), it will be organically imposed and here is what makes me say that:

      – most businesses (large ones especially) are just banks dressed up as a business (scratch the surface a bit and under every car factory, food producer, construction business etc – is actually a financial institution / bank financing and owning that business entity)
      – most real-estate (homes) US families live in are – just bank owned properties (try not to pay your mortgage and you will see who owns “your home”)

      So, the common denominator is a financial institution (bank, bankers). They are leading and directing most of major decisions which then trickle down to a simple, daily workers (us).
      Once their goals can not be met, they (and the industries they are financing and owning will have to change).

      There is a TX university professor who said that when the US mid class comes down to the level of the mid class in countries to which we are outsourcing their jobs to – the US economy (read “banks”) will stall and will have to change or die. There will be no profit margin to make in US once the US mid class gets to the level of Chinese or Indian or Pakistan or MX mid class. That will take time but as the world is getting smaller and processes are faster – that will happen.
      So, the old spiel of “it will get worse before it gets better” can be applied here. Just take a look who is buying businesses, land, properties across the US (as well as EU) and you will see.

      That unfortunately does nothing to help us with “at will” employment we are discussing today.

      I think, we, employees have to understand that the model is “at will” and be aware that loyalty doesn’t exist any more. Therefore, changing jobs to always seek better, leaving bad employment for a better one is one organic way of bringing the change. By working for those who treat you better and giving them 100% of your performance, with time, those “bad” employers will have to change or work with employees who can not do find anything better and eventually become not competitive enough and die in their market places. Maybe sounds naive but that is how some global giants died in last 10 years.

      • @Milan: That’s an out-of-the-box point of view and I like it. I think the underlying problem is that people think of themselves as workers who do work for money, and employers see themselves as primarily financial entities whose goal is to make more money while spending less.

        I think there’s a paucity of vision and perspective that turns the relationships between the parties into a zero-sum game. I win, you lose. Boring. Ineffective.

        We do work to create something of greater value than the resources we put into it. If both parties get together and contract with one another to create as much new value as possible, the sky’s the limit. Pay doesn’t matter — what matters is, can you together produce enough new value to share in big profits?

        I think of it as pie. Work together to make a bigger, better pie and share bigger, fatter slices. The problem is, who trusts and ventures first into this kind of contract? Obviously, few will. I don’t really care about them in the big picture. They are the skeptics, the small thinkers, the us-vs.-them crowd. They are terrified of real success. Fear is their biggest problem. Lack of trust is their greatest weakness. So they isolate themselves in little groups — ethnic, political, social, you name it. Us-vs.-them is their binky.

        I care about the odd ball. The example of humanity who risks it all routinely to partner up with others so they can do more than the individual can. This is how societies and clans form — to share in the work and the ideas and the profits. Urgh — socialism! Not at all. I’m a dyed in the wool capitalist. Nothing risked, nothing gained.

        Our economy is hidebound in us-vs.-them and isolationist tendencies. It’s counter-productive. “Well, all nice, Nick, but the rest of us have to deal with the real world!” Really? People that talk like that are cynical, depressed, tired, worn out, self-engrossed, suspcious and unlikely to venture or take risks.

        That’s how societies and economies die. Everyone’s guarding their stuff.

        I’m interested in the person who shuts up, looks around, identifies opportunities and others they can work with, then mixes it up without fear to create something new under the sun. Which produces enough profit for everyone involved to make out better than if they relied only on themselves.

        Loyalty must exist again. Treating people well must exist again. Same with trust and venturing into the unknown. Without all that, all we have is angry, lonely, cranky people to whom everything is what’s hurting them.

        I think you’re right: “Therefore, changing jobs to always seek better, leaving bad employment for a better one is one organic way of bringing the change. By working for those who treat you better and giving them 100% of your performance, with time, those “bad” employers will have to change or work with employees who can not do find anything better and eventually become not competitive enough and die in their market places. Maybe sounds naive but that is how some global giants died in last 10 years.”

        Work is what’s valuable — not the employer or the worker. Leave your “us” at the door and behave not like an employee or an employer. Behave like what matters is the value that you produce. Get past salary and wages and the zero-sum game. Contract with one another to produce wealth for both. Two heads are still better than one. Find good heads and go with them. Leave the rest to argue about whatever floats their boats.

      • A European system as you propose will never happen in America, even those who flirt with it in America and on this site will not ramrod it through. All the “we are the world” sing around the campfire will not succeed in implementing it here.

        • @Antonio: Your position seems to translate into two words: “Give up!” If that’s how I lived, I wouldn’t be doing this.

          • I don’t going through life urinating on my shoes. I pick my battles now, and lose many, but sometimes I win the war, and the sun does sometimes shine on a dog’s rear end. Nor do I consistently tell folks “you lost me” when their points (regardless if I agree or disagree with them) are clear and concise as the nose on my face. This site discusses avoiding toxic employers, or jumping ship to exit one, and generally, the points are realistic. I’m not going to become a social activist to lobby for employment contacts for custodians or CNAs, anymore than I would for executives, or others. I’m too busy busting my chops working two jobs. If an employer is a sleaze (and I’ve worked for several in my day), then find a new job, walk out the door with your dignity, and put them in your rear view mirror. That’s how the game is played, whether one like it or not.

    • @Different: Do you think maybe politics and money are sophomoric games that distract people from living their lives as best they can? One locks your mind, the other locks your soul. Both serve to keep us focused on us-vs.-them. It doesn’t work. Just look around: Politics and money drive the world. To the brink, to distraction, to insanity, to destruction.

      I think COVID is going to turn the world upside down. Not because it’s going to make us sick or kill us. It’s going to change EVERYTHING we do. This is the moment that Warren Buffet describes as the point where real wealth is made. Note that Buffett is not about money. He lives in a modest house, lives a modest life. He LIVES. COVID is creating that moment. Will we try to “go back to the way it was?” I hope the hell not. Let’s go toward what comes next.

  8. In a socio-economic regime producing broad and deep status quo inequality, U.S. employment “at-will” stands as a single point-of-reference among many. It may arguably be among a constellation of key initiatives challenging that status quo. But I need more convincing it’s central to reversing the dominant “inequality” regime. In the beginning, it was capital versus labor. Perhaps observers are accurate that late-stage capitalism is upon us. Maybe. What is in little doubt is that for now capital has (at least in the U.S.) beaten the hell out of labor. Yup, there’s some current labor unrest, which is a good thing for battling the regime but “unrest” is at the starting gate not in the back stretch challenging for the lead in a strong competitive position.

  9. This is basically a sophomoric question for the following reasons: #1. The American Constitution and the Bill of Rights, both of which establish fundamental freedoms. As such the key word is FREEDOM. #2. There is no true equality in the world. There never has been nor will there ever be. Everyone has different talents, personalities, likes and dislikes. #3. Basic human nature (Lookout for yourself first).
    Further explanation of these three component parts: #1. Americans have and continue to pride themselves on the amount and extent of personal freedom granted by our founding fathers. Americans are fiercely defensive of personal freedom until they are convinced, deceived to give it up (the nature of both political parties). #2. Everyone has at least one talent, but that’s not good enough. Talent must be developed and honed into a skill, which then becomes a true asset and something of value. In the marketplace there are no awards or participation trophies; you either compete or you don’t and the next man up will get the nod and opportunity. #3. Basic human nature is such that combined with the mindset of personal freedom, the employee today and of the future won’t unite to form a united, formidable front to make any changes. There can be and never will be a consensus of what these changes should be to appease everyone’s likes and dislikes. Human nature is such that Milan’s comment of pollyanna hope is merely a delusion. Grab similar minded people, make some smores, and sit around the campfire singing “Cumbyah.” Milan’s justification for her reasoning is based on fantasy, limited facts and a clear indication she has never owned a real business.
    I make this statement having owned 7 different businesses over the course of my workplace career and encountered a lot of different hurdles and issues over a 30 year period of time. My businesses ranged in revenue from $250,000 annual to $4.5 million. I delt with unions, employees, government regulation and a plethora of lawyers. This experience factor enables me to say that Milan is dead wrong in her assumptions. I strongly disagree yet respect her opinion, but accept it for just that.
    There were many different times when employment issues arose during my tenure as a business owner. Every time a lawyer attempted to intervene, more issues and problems took place. I operated by common sense and after analyzing a situation, created my own contracts, all of which held up in federal courts of law. Yes, I’m saying lawyers are grossly over-rated and more of the problem than the solution. Look at today’s Congress, how many of them are lawyers and reflect how few bona fide decisions have been made that make sense.
    When I first started out as a business owner, a mentor said to me, “Treat attorneys and bankers as Saturday night whores. Take their favors but never get into a relationship with them because they will end up owning you.” He was right as I experienced many times over the years.
    Bottom line is, the problem isn’t with the basic premise of “at-will” employment, it’s with the implementation, the lack of oversight to limit abuse, and common sense solutions (a quality few lawyers have). My question to Mr. Carey is, what political persuasion are you? Your article reflects that Eastern mindset. Question #2. What experience have you done in fighting for the worker plus getting the so-called problem of “at-will” rectified. Your article contains no real substance for a viable solution. It’s been mentioned about the 1099 independent contractor. I utilized this throughout my business ownership period and it worked out to the benefit of everyone. It was a CONTRACT. Courts love contracts and provide the judge a basis upon which to render a decision.
    If you’re an employee with viable, sought after skills and sufficient experience, I strongly suggest researching the Independent Contractor aspect. Beware, it’s lawyers who have created difficulties with implementing this very, workable, sustainable approach to employer/employee relationships.

    • @Get Real: I think Mark Carey’s solution is the only one that’s really viable. People contracting with one another to produce and share more value than the “freedom” of being alone and isolated limits us to.

      Consider reading “Atlas Shrugged.” It’s an extreme, over-dramatized example of people doing what I just described. They don’t walk around trying to protect their freedom. They own their freedom, then they don’t worry about it. The create and produce by working with others who can do the same.

      Kris Kristofferson said, “Freedom’s just another word.” BF Skinner said there is no such thing as freedom because we are all subject to behavior and thinking based on rewards and reinforcement. We play mind games with ourselves when we should be picking who we want to contract with, and get on with creating.

  10. Loyalty from the employer or employee has and will never exist As an employer I had employees walk out without notice even after top wages/best perks we could afford/ positive reinforcement coaching putting up with their numerous personal non business issues late night telephone calls; I have fired people for the same. Also I have been fired and walked out and suffered the consequences. Peter Drucker had an interesting take in “They’re Not Employees, They’re People” also read https://www.kiplinger.com/article/business/T008-C032-S014-why-you-shouldn-t-move-your-business-to-california.html both add to the debate

  11. The LeBron James Rule sounds good. If an employer does not like or need an employee, it can assign her to an undesirable position and cut her pay to minimum. She can stay employed until finding a new job.

    • @Howard: Yup! Why is this strategy not more popular?

  12. Governments the world over have literally announced to business-owners and employees everywhere that they really don’t get to decide when to work or when to open for business. Combined with the interference in hiring decisions, it wouldn’t take much for them to also say that we we don’t get to choose our employers either. So it’s kind of moot to be arguing that contracts will help in regions where this Orwellian shadow lingers. In places where the rule-of-law isn’t “at will”, yes; I can see it working. Otherwise, the incentive to retain long-term employees (let alone invest in massive projects and businesses) has been effectively NEUTURED until either:

    1) the public trust is restored

    or

    2) the public just says “*!&# it; we’re working, and you…are…fired.”

  13. I’ve carried this with me for a few years. It broke my spirit and ability to trust and while this may not be the place to air it out, please humor me. Long story short: Hired on contract basis (no agency, but with a contract) by a small engineering & fab company to handle a big rebuild for a premier O&G company. Worked 6 months, then hired full time with full boat benefits and salary. Eight months into full-time, CEO: “things are getting a little slow so we may have to make some cuts. But, don’t worry you’re not going anywhere; you have become one of the “family”. In fact, once this project is done, I want you to become General Manager of Manufacturing. It’s a new position and a first for this company”.
    I’d never felt so successful and proud–this is what I’ve worked for my entire working life of 40 years. Fast forward to October same year and same CEO: called into his office and thought this is the day that will change my life. It did! Received letter of dismissal/termination with no explanation or discussion. Employment at will? You bet and at its finest. Boy, do I feel better now. Thanks to Nick and all the readers.

  14. At a company I used to work for, I was protected by a union, but of course management wasn’t. Several managers told us that if they took their allotted vacation time, they won’t have a position when they come back. Also, managers were terminated when they nearly reached full pension.
    That company is no longer in the US, moved to Mexico last year.

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