Friday, May 26, 2006

More Solutions In Search of a Problem

Miriam, at Concurring Opinions, doesn’t like at-will employment (or so I assume by her blog-post).

As Professor Pauline Kim (Wash U) has empirically documented, many non-unionized workers (and, presumably, many 'Apprentice' watchers) do not fully realize the extent of their own job insecurity. Often, people believe that if they show up at the office and do their jobs, absent any obvious difficulties with management or economic downturns, their employment will last. They believe what they think the boss has promised them: continued employment for hard work. But that is not the law.

Indeed, while it may be good management practice to document reasons for firing someone, the law does not require it. Under the at-will employment rule -- the law in all jurisdictions but Montana -- an employer may fire an employee for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all. Although federal and state anti-discrimination statutes, whistle-blower laws, and other legal provisions put restraints on an employer's ability to use a bad reason to fire an employee, the underlying at-will regime remains substantially unchanged. The reality of the worker's bargain looks a lot more like Trump's deal.

If most employees don’t realize that they can be fired at any time for any reason, wouldn’t this imply that it doesn’t happen all that often? If it was a wide spread practice everyone would be fearful of it (likely demand Congress take action to fix it, but that’s beside the point).

I think it’s safe to assume that at-will employment has caused a great deal of problems – what does it gain us?

It’s easier to find work when you need a job – since there is very little risk in hiring someone companies are more willing to hire when they need to.

It’s easier to change careers – I’ve personally been the beneficiary of this one. As long as you are willing to start at the bottom you can switch careers with little or no experience. Convincing an employer to take a chance on you is much easier when the employer knows there is an out if you don’t work out.

Out economy runs more efficiently – when companies, especially small companies need to downsize (a difficult decision to be sure) they can do so without the expensive severance packages. The US has a high rate of entrepreneurship compared to most of the world and I think that flexible labor laws are a large contributor to this.

So if there doesn’t seem to be much of a problem and there are many benefits to at-will employment why is there a sense that this is a problem that needs “fixed?”

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