Free Research Paper About Employment-At-Will Employees: Essence And Execution

Type of paper: Research Paper

Topic: Workplace, Employment, Employee, Law, Company, Criminal Justice, Employer, Crime

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/11/05

Employment-at-Will: Essence and Execution

In the United States, labor laws for contractual employments dictate that employees will be hired and placed in at-will employment status. An at-will employee can be fired by an organization any time and for any reason. This means that the employer has the right to terminate the employer-employee relationship anytime without having to establish any just reason for the termination. Upon hiring, usually employees are asked to sign an at-will employment agreement to ensure that any time the employment relationship is terminated, the employee cannot ask for loss of income as a result of the dismissal. This reasoning is justified on the basis of the idea that employees can also terminate his or her services and association with an organization anytime he or she wants – with or without reason and without prior notice. As a result, this employment condition is generally viewed as unjust by both parties, but only when looking at one side of the story alone and not considering the other end of the situation.
These at-will employment disclaimers are very common in employee handbooks in America. If an employee is employed “at-will”, then the employer is free to let go of employees any time even without just cause. Unless the employer provides some signals that it only fires employees for a just cause, then the law believes the employee is employed at will. For instance, if the company asks an employee to sign a one-year contract that guarantees continuous salary of one year and one that details situations or reasons for which an employee can be fired, then the employee is not an at-will employee. Even without a binding contract, if the company constantly reassures an employee that it only fires employees who do not meet the company’s employment standards, then the employee is considered a regular employee and not an at-will employee. These reassurances of job security goes against the concept of at-will employment, thus, the employee has reason to believe that the company will not fire the employee at will (Guerin).
In Maryland, there are exceptions that help and protect employees from unjust treatment and illegal discrimination. If the reason for employment termination can be attributed to factors such as gender, age, race, religion, ethnicity, disability, or marital status, among others, then it may constitute a violation under State or federal law. For instance, if an employee’s tenure is terminated due to “retaliation for filing workers’ compensation claims, for attempting to enforce rights to receive overtime or the minimum wage, for asserting rights to work in a safe and healthy workplace, for refusing to commit criminal acts, for reporting for jury duty or military service, or for being subject to a wage attachment for any one indebtedness” (Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation).

Evaluation of Scenarios

There are laws that expressly protect employees from termination for reasons other than conduct in the office. Following are the analyses for chosen scenarios presented in the case:
John posted a rant on his Facebook page in which he criticized the company’s most important customer. Bryce & Antis (2013) asserted that according to Maryland’s laws governing at-will employment, employers are barred from using information they get from social media as basis of hiring or decision making considering that employees might be protected by certain protected categories, including race, gender, age, religion, and others (p. 4). In the same manner, employers are prohibited from asking for personal log in information of employees in social networking sites that employees are members of (p. 8). Additionally, a law called “off-duty conduct law” (p. 6) declares that activities employees do off-duty or outside the work premises should not be influenced by decisions employers make pertaining to an employee’s conduct outside of work, otherwise, the employer may be subjected to employer liability. Thus, if John posted that message as his social media status outside of his work schedule and not using company property or equipment, then the company should not use it as basis for termination.
One of the department supervisors requests a secretary be fired for insubordination. However, after conducting an interrogation, it was found out that the usually high-performing secretary actually refused to prepare false expense reports for the boss that is why the boss is recommending for her termination. In this case, the employer cannot terminate the secretary because according to Maryland laws, “when the motivation of the discharge by the employer contravened some clear mandate of public policy” (Bruce, 2011), such as terminating the services of an employee for exposing or declining to participate in the illegal practices in the company (Bruce, 2011), then the company becomes liable to the law if it will insist on terminating the services of the secretary because the secretary’s actions is not a form of insubordination (Guerin). In this case, the Whistleblower Protection Act will also serve as additional defense for the secretary’s case for exposing irregularities and violations of rules, laws, and guidelines within the company (Rubin (a), 2011).
Anna’s boss’ refusal to sign her leave request for jury duty and is not terminating her services for being absent without permission. This situation does not give the employer the right to terminate Anna’s services because she took time off to “serve on a jury duty” (Guerin), which was one of Anna’s responsibilities as a citizen of the United States of America. Anna was only exercising her legal rights, thus, she did not violate any rules or laws because jury duty is also mandated by law for all U.S. citizens. If the employer insists, then it is the employer who will be held liable for terminating the employee in this case.

Real Life Scenario of At-Will Employment

A Maryland employee sued her employer for terminating her services without just cause, citing that the company’s “anti-retaliation policy rose to the level of a contract” (Rubin (b), 2012). According to the employee (Scott vs. Merck & Company Incorporated), the basis for firing her was her reporting of illegal actions and “violations of the company’s published ethical rules” (Rubin (b), 2012). As a result, Scott was awarded $555,000 in the Maryland Federal District Court. After the company appealed, the decision was overturned. In reversing the District Court’s ruling, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the District Court incorrectly concluded that the “definite, specific, and unambiguous language of Merck’s non-retaliation policies rendered the disclaimers moot” (Pivec & Babichenko, 2012). But according to the findings, the disclaimers were unambiguous in nature and were clear to render the employee’s “reliance on the non-retaliation policies unjustifiable” (Pivec & Babichenko, 2012). Thus, the Fourth Circuit maintained that the final decision should have been in favor of Merck & Company, Incorporated.


Bryce D., & Antis, P. (2013). Social media in the workplace – Potential traps for employers and employees. Retrieved from
Godfrey, B. (2011). Wrongful termination under Maryland law. Retrieved from
Guerin, L. (n.d.). Employment at will: What does it mean. NOLO Law for All. Retrieved from
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation [MDLLR]. (2014). Employment at-will: Termination of employment – employer discretion in the workplace: Employment-at-will – the Maryland guide to wage payment and employment standards. Retrieved from
Pivec, M. & Babichenko, I.M. (2012). Fourth Circuit holds that Merck’s corporate non-retaliation policies do not create employment contract rights due to unambiguous at-will disclaimers. Retrieved from
Rubin (a), J. (2011). Maryland health care worker whistleblower protection act. Maryland Employment Law. Retrieved from
Rubin (b). J. (2012). Promise in Employee Handbook not enforceable, Fourth Circuit overturns jury verdict. Maryland Employment Law. Retrieved from

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Free Research Paper About Employment-At-Will Employees: Essence And Execution. Free Essay Examples - Published Nov 05, 2020. Accessed January 30, 2023.

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