Good Employment-At-Will Doctrine Case Study Example

Type of paper: Case Study

Topic: Workplace, Employment, Employee, Public, Law, Policy, Criminal Justice, Belief

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/10/15

The article of Charles J. Muhl (2001) discussed the employment condition in the United States. Workers seek job security. They believe that they would be rewarded in the same way that other benefits function when they give satisfactory performance. This has been a faulty belief, however, as employment in the United States faces challenges of mass layoffs, reductions in force, and job turnovers among others. With this, the 19th century gave rise to the “at will” employment. This pertains to terminable employment for any reason that is initiated either by the employer or the employee.
The employment-at-will doctrine asserts that the term of employment of an employee without a written contract is indefinite. The employer, however, may terminate an employee for good, bad, or no cause.Courts traditionally regarded the affiliation between an employer and an employee as equal when it comes to bargaining power. Hence, the doctrine mirrored the belief that people must have the freedom to enter into work contracts of a particular duration. There would be no obligations, however, attached to either party when a person is hired with no such contract. In general, the employee would not be given the right to dispute the termination.
However, there are limitations to this rule. These are known as the three major exceptions (Muhl, 2001). As discussed by Muhl (2001), the exceptions mainly tackle terminations that do not seem fair, although they technically fulfill the doctrine requirements. First is the public-policy exception. An employee is illegally dismissed when the termination is in contradiction to a public policy. Public policy covers the acts on probable injury to public or against public good.This would mean that an employee couldn’t be terminated when he filed complaints for his rights under OSHA law, for example. This exception is widely recognized across 43 states (Muhl, 2001; Law For Change, 2015).
Second is the implied-contract exception. It is applicable on implied contracts made between the parties, even when there is no express written medium about the existence of employment relationship. This would mean that an employer may create written or oral representations that can be enacted in times of adverse employment actions. In essence, these representations could be considered an employment contract. 38 states recognize this exception.
Third is the covenant of good faith exception. In its broadest sense, it is applicable to every employment relations. It pertains to employer decisions being subjected to a so-called “just cause” custom. In another term, terminations that occur through malice or bad faith are illegal. Only 11 states recognize this exception (Muhl, 2001).
Despite the doctrine and traditional perception of the court on employment relations, there is still a tendency for the imbalance of power and inequality. It is likely that the balance is tipped off in favor of employers, as they are the bosses who make the call. With this, an employer could power trip an employee. In times like this, the primary action that must be taken is to undergo due process. Another probable issue is professional malpractice.This is in connection to the given example in the public-policy exception. Filing complaints may risk an employee’s security. Information may be extracted even without the consent of the employee. According to the Occupational Health Code of Ethics, the employee’s right must be safeguarded. This could be done through the upgrade of legal procedures (Moskowitz, 1988).
Virginia is an “at-will” state that is also observing the three major exceptions, especially the one on public-policy exception. Nonetheless, the state has its own take on exceptions. First, it asserts that a termination would be deemed invalid when an employee exercised a statutory created right. Second, a termination is invalid if a reason for discharge contradicts a public policy that is explicitly expressed by law. Last, a termination is invalid when it resulted from the employee’s refusal to participate in an illegal deed (Law For Change, 2015; O’Toole, 2011).
The state had a significant real-world case example that set the legal standards for wronged employees. It was the case of Bowman versus the State Bank of Keysville. The court found two terminated banking employees for refusing to vote their stock in the small community bank for a proposed merger. The discharge was against public policy. When the employee could point out a public policy that its employer violated, the employee would have the right to claim for damages. Claims have varying results in state and federal courts. In this case, the court decided to assert the right of the employees to vote through their stock without the threat of punishment. The state started to face more public policy exceptions (O’Toole, 2011).
At the time, harassment protection and federal discrimination were booming. Succeeding the Bowman example case was the Lockhart claims cases. Here, the court held a Virginia Human Rights Act expressed public policy that when violated would support the wrongful discharge claim. The court ended with this claim despite the terms of the Act asserting that it would not be interpreted to make an individual cause of action (O’Toole, 2011).


Law For Change. (2015). Virginia employment overview and general issues. Retrieved from
Moskowitz, S. (1988). Employment-at-will and code of ethics: The professional’s dilemma. Valparaiso University Law Review, 23(1), 33-73.
Muhl, C. J. (2001). The employment-at-will doctrine: Three major exceptions. Monthly Labor Review 3-11.
O’Toole, D. S. (2011). At will employment.Cowan Gates PC Law Firm. Retrieved from 3-15-11.pdf

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