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.
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.