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New law stops firings, will catch on just ’cause

Most Americans Can Be Fired for No Reason at Any Time, But a New Law in New York Could Change That

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek
By Josh Eidelson

just causeMelody Walker had just finished working the lunch rush at a Chipotle in New York City when her manager walked up and told her, in front of several co-workers, that she was fired. When the 36-year-old single mom asked him for an explanation, he said it was because she wasn’t smiling. (This was 2018, pre-masks.)

This is how the U.S. works under at-will employment, a legal standard that allows companies to fire people for almost any reason—and sometimes for no reason at all. Unlike in other wealthy countries, where bosses generally have to provide just cause for termination, at-will positions account for most U.S. jobs.

In 2018, a few months after Chipotle fired her, Walker began working with union organizers and local officials on a groundbreaking two-law package that will make New York City a little more like Europe. The laws, which take effect on July 5, ban at-will employment among the city’s fast-food businesses, meaning that from now on, Chipotle and its peers will have to provide just cause to fire one of their roughly 70,000 workers in the five boroughs. The standard requires employers to show workers have engaged in misconduct or failed to satisfactorily perform their duties.

 

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Nick’s take on just cause

Employers knew it was coming, but they’ve filed lawsuits pretending they can stop it. We’re talking about laws that stop employers from firing employees without cause. This practice has always been unfair and uncivilized. (Attorney Bernie Dietz has explained why employment contracts are desireable.) I think New York City is just the start of this trend — employees can be fired only for “just cause,” not just because. Learn what just cause is because soon it will affect everybody’s job.

What’s your take? Should employers be able to fire employees without reason? Or is “just cause” a reasonable protection for employees? I’d love to hear from both sides — employers and workers. What’s your take?

 

 

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13 Comments
  1. At-will-employment works both ways – my company is growing and hiring like crazy, but there are also a lot of changes, and it is causing people to leave. Key people. Not good.

    • At Chipotle, as long as they make my burrito right, with extra cilantro, I don’t care if the staff smiles at me.

  2. I’ve personally experienced the bitter pill of at will employment, and I’ve been blind sided and died on that hill before.
    While the circumstances leading up to this woman’s termination are unclear, not smiling is a willy-nilly reason to terminate an employee. Assuming this article is truthful and accurate, then the manner in which this woman was terminated (openly in front of colleagues and customers) is both egregious and unprofessional. Then again, it’s Chipotle, so consider the source.
    I once was unceremoniously let go from a job many years ago at a small toxic steel company because I didn’t get along with my boss (true). Behind closed doors in his office, the petulant company president threw my final paycheck at me bouncing it off the side of my head as he announced I was being let go. Low class.
    I hope just cause will replace at will employment as the law of the land, but outside of the New York’s and California’s, I don’t see it happening elsewhere.
    For one thing (as with NCAs), legislators in states like mine that have term limits, will find themselves out of a job and looking for another one, sooner than later, so they avoid doing things to step on the employers toes, and face repercussions, or being black balled themselves.
    The other thing is that I’m fairly certain that employers in more pro-business states like mine will
    still have a lot of muscle and leeway in terminating employees during the initial probationary period.
    While the sentiments of just cause are good, I believe it’s wishful thinking that it will come to fruition in most states.

  3. While you may get changes in the law to require firing people for cause, you will likely also get things on the other side of this. What happens when employees leaving at will is forbidden and they end up liable for damages to the company when they leave at will (which they can currently do).

    I also find it interesting that its the blah, bland, Chipotle that is doing this. That company is so poorly run in comparison to the much superior Qdoba that its not even funny.

    • @J: Of course there’s always the other side of the deal to consider. If you had such protections as an employee, what reasonable protections would you be willing to grant your employer?

      • @Nick, that’s where I’m not sure. I like the idea that employees are free to leave at any time as well. But I AM bothered at firing people without cause.

        I guess my ideal would be for both employer and employee to respect the relationship and be honorable. But that’s a fantasy world. I guess maybe in exchange for cause based firing I would yield on the employee side a requirement to give at least a weeks notice.

        But as for the fact that Qudoba is better that Chipotle, I will yield no ground.

        • @J: That’s how I see it. The employee is obligated to provide a certain amount of notice if the employer wants it.

          I won’t dispute your claim about Qudoba, but I’ll always go for the mom and pop local Mexican joint before I venture into a fast-food chain.

  4. “Workers who spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek say they’ve been fired for noting that a manager showed up two hours late”

    This is why businesses hate just cause laws. It shows the emperor has no clothes.

    Employer: “We fired her because she failed to cook enough burgers during the lunch rush.”
    Employee: “I couldn’t cook enough because half the grill doesn’t work. I told the manager about it weeks ago and he refuses to fix it.”

    Employer: “We fired him because he failed to deliver packages on time.”
    Employee: “The manager gave me 20 minutes to deliver a package 30 miles away which would have required me to drive 90 mph and break speed limit laws.”

    Employer: “We fired him because he did not safely operate the equipment.”
    Employee: “They said I would get training on the equipment but never provided it.”

    Employer: “We fired her because she left work early.”
    Employee: “The manager’s daughter has the same position and left early 10 minutes before I did but nothing happened to her.”

    Employers and managers who are fair, consistent, and competent have nothing to fear from such laws.

    • So you’re saying that some of the onus on terminating employees falls on the infallible employers? Watch it, you might be 86td off here for such heresy.
      Lack of training? Rules for thee, but not for me? Breaking the law to meet quotas? Trying to use inoperable equipment? You’ve covered some of the bases here.
      Add to this “employees don’t get fired, they fire themselves” or “it’s nothing personal, just business”.
      Yeah, right.

  5. Performance is still the preferred way for managers to fire people they don’t like. It’s quite simple really: load down the target with an impossible task, but take away all support, watch them fail as you’ve set them up to fail. Easy. Plus you have a pretty good weapon against the problem trying to make an unemployment insurance claim. Admittedly this may not apply as much to fast food as it does to the higher waged but expendable professionals.

    • A common misconception is that being terminated due to inability to perform the job is a disqualification from UI. Not true. Had that played on me before. Employers have to prove gross misconduct. I’ve been awarded UI as it was determined I gave a good faith effort, even when a low life employer tried to contest. A slam dunk. Even when put on a PIP the claimant still stands a solid chance of being awarded UI. Part of the onus is placed on the employer and that they hired the employee in the first place.

      • That’s mostly correct. The employee when shown the door will be told performance or nothing at all, the state will be told something different. If an employer wants to turn poor perfomance into misconduct it is fairly straight forward. I wouldn’t call this vindictiveness just business as usual.

  6. It is mostly true. In fact, 100% spot on true.I don’t blow smoke.
    Obviously they’ll try to report it as something else to attempt to not have the raising of their rates to the state UI fund.
    But the analogy of its “just business” doesn’t wash, for a share of this is in fact vindictiveness on the ex-employer’s part. Small companies are the biggest offenders. What better way to twist the knife once they stabbed you then to fight UI claims, or hold them up, when they clearly have no proof of gross misconduct, or some other willy-nilly reason.
    It’s true that employers or managers will use performance issues as a means of terminating an employee under at will employment when they clearly have no other proof of something else (gross misconduct, punctuality issues, attendance issues, violating company policies, etc.).
    My now ex boss at my current job was very indiscreet about leaving confidential documents out in the open, sometimes for days on end. I saw some of the most brazenly false and slanderous claims on some employees that had been terminated. Fortunately, I later learned these guys were awarded their UI. Good for them!

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