Employment-At-Will Doctrine

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In the workplace, moral guidelines must be adhered to for smooth running of any business. Knowledge of work ethics is very imperative to both employers and employees. Due to violation of workplace ethics among other reasons, managers are forced to fire employees. Firing employees is difficult task for any manager, yet it is very necessary in a number of cases (Sandefur, 2010). It is advisable that when a manager wants to fire an employee, he should do extensive research to establish valid reasons for doing so. There are a number of exceptions in regard to firing employees that are stipulated in the employment-at-will document (Halbert and Ingulli, 2011). This paper will discuss employer and management ethics that are effective and applicable in the workplace.

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Case Scenario 1

In the first scenario, the employee is incompetent and even after comprehensive training; she is not able to work effectively. In addition to poor performance, there is an issue of employee misrepresentation. This implies that this employee may not be fully qualified. The company has the right to fire the employee for both reasons. According to business ethics, poor performance and employee misrepresentation should be valid reasons to dismiss any employee (Sandefur, 2010).

In the court, the employer stand chances of winning the case against employee especially if all violations are outlined in the company policy. However if the employee has worked for more than four months in this company, she stand chances of winning the case against his employee of basis of incompetence. Firing an employee who has worked for more than four months on basis of incompetency is not suitable reason (Sandefur, 2010). In order to avoid any liability to the company, the management should investigate cases of employee misrepresentation clearly. The company should prove that the management discussed all discrepancies with the employee as stated in the application statement (Sandefur, 2010). Where the employee is performing poorly, the management should provide documents that show how the company made efforts to improve performance of this employee.

There is an exception in this case. In situation where there are performance issues, the management should make efforts to communicate with the employee before the termination is offered. If the employment is on contract basis, the company cannot dismiss the employee (Sheppey, 2007).

Case Scenario 2

In the second case, there are issues of gross misconduct and policy violation. Coming to work late is a violation of workplace policies while acting with rage and violently is considered as gross misconduct (Halbert and Ingulli, 2011). Once a company has determined these issues without doubt, it has the right to terminate an employee on these bases. In the court of law, as long as long there is enough documentation to support that the employee had attendance issues, she stand zero chances of winning the case.

To reduce any risk or liability to the company, the management must have proper documentation to confirm that the employee (the subject) acted inappropriately as stipulated in the company policy (Sheppey, 2007). Similarly, the same will apply for policy violation and therefore the management must have document or witness to support these claims. The management should also provide a workplace policy that shows that the employee violated a policy falling under this category.

However, there is exception in this scenario. An employer is prohibited to fire employees based on discrimination, which is clearly explained in the American Discrimination Act (ADA) OF 1990 (Halbert and Ingulli, 2011). If there is existence of a contract, the employer is also prohibited to terminate any employee (Muhl, 2001).

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Case Scenario 3

In the third scenario, the employee misses to come to work with employer’s consent, which is violation of workplace policy. However, this happens during days that she has religious duties. Talking to other employees during working hours is gross misconduct and the employer has a right to fire an employee over such issues. However, the employer has no right to sack the employee on basis that she wants to form a union as she is entitled to this right.

If the employee is sacked due religious reasons; this is discrimination and she stands high chances of winning the case. If the court determines without doubt that there were attendance issues (as proved by the employer), employee stand zero chances in this case.

Missing work without employer’s consent is considered to disrespectful and therefore violation of work policy (Haymes and Kleiner, 2001). However, the employer must have a witness or proper documentation to support claims of policy violation and gross misconduct, which are valid reasons for firing an employee. The management should show that the employer posed a security/safety risk to other employee by inciting them.

There are a number of exceptions in this case scenario. While the employer can fire an employee according to employee at-will doctrine, it is inappropriate and prohibited to fire employees based religious practice/believes (Sheppey, 2007). According to diversity ethics, employers should respect diversity and tolerate people of different religion in the workplace. It is also unacceptable to fire an employee for basic employees’ rights such as filing for worker’s compensation or a work leave and so on (Sheppey, 2007). In this case, the organization should not dismiss the employee because she campaigned for workers union; this is her right (Muhl, 2001).

Scenario 4

In case scenario four, there are two main issues. First, there is an issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Sexual harassment ethics argue that employees have the right to be protected from any form of sexual harassment such as inappropriate sexual comments and advances (Haymes and Kleiner, 2001). Secondly, there is a violation of work policy by the employee. Even after the employee was informed of the company policies regarding relationship/dating at the workplace, she went ahead and had an affair with a coworker. This is violation of workplace policy.

Legally, the company has a right to fire the employee on the basis of violation of work place policy (Sheppey, 2007). However, the company is answerable and responsible for issues of sexual harassment and the management cannot fire employees on this basis. The employee should report this case to the manager so that an appropriate action can be taken against the supervisor (Sandefur, 2010).

In the event that this case goes to the court, the employee is likely to file for sexual harassment. The company is entitled to compensate the employee for emotional distress. In case of misconduct, the court must determine whether the punishment (termination) fit the offence and whether the punishment is consistent.

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To reduce risks and liabilities to the company, the management should be able to prove that the employee in deed violated the work place policy (Sheppey, 2007). As such, the management should have proper documentation or at least a witness to support this claims. For instance, the management should be able to show that it provided a comprehensive work policy to the employee, which she clearly understood all the requirements but violated the company policy voluntarily (Sandefur, 2010).

In this case, there are a number of exceptions as stipulated by employment-at-will doctrine. Suppose the employee reports the case of sexual harassment to the manager, she should not be dismissed for reporting supervisor’s misconduct (Sheppey, 2007). The same case applies to whistle blowing.

In addition, it is clear that she was approached by her supervisor and this should not be used as a basis to dismiss her since it will be a case of discrimination (Muhl, 2001). The supervisor should be the one to face consequences for his action. This is because acts of sexual harassment are exception in the employment-at-will doctrine as they are serious public policy issues (Sheppey, 2007). If an employment contract does exist, the employee should not be dismissed too.


In conclusion, the employment-at-will doctrine says that any party, be it the employer or employee may end the work relationship without liability (Fulmer, 1990). Thus, an employer may terminate an employee for with a valid reason, for bad cause, or for no reason as long as the reasons are not discriminatory (Haymes and Kleiner, 2001). However, some exceptions are applicable and any employer must fully understand them properly. It is highly advisable that managers should seek advice from human resource experts when considering to fire an employee or employees to avoid liabilities.

Reference List

Fulmer, W. E. (1990). Employment at will: Option for managers. Academy of executive management, 4 (2): 102-107

Halbert, T., & Ingulli, E. (2011). Law and Ethics in the Business Environment. (7th Edn.). Mason: Cengage Learning.

Haymes, J., Kleiner, B. H. (2001). Federal and state statutory exemptions to At-Will Employment. Managerial Law, 43 (2): 92–8.

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Muhl, C. (2001). The employment-at-will doctrine: three major exceptions. Web.

Sandefur, T. (2010). The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. Washington: Cato Institute.

Sheppey, T. (2007). Sarbanes-Oxley. Basingstoke: MacMillan

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