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Mixing HR metaphors: employment at will is not right to work

Cover of "Just Cause (Snap Case)"

Cover of Just Cause (Snap Case)

Employment at will and Just Cause go together

I was reading this thread on HR Toolbox the other day where someone asked,

 “If an employee has already submitted his/her two weeks notice with their supervisor/HR department, can the company legally “fire” them during that two week period to avoid paying the remainder of that person’s salary?”

The various responses were varied, and somewhat interesting, but something else caught my attention and made me just a little crazy.   People started throwing around terms related to employment.   Terms  like “employment at will state” and “right to work state”.  

 Maybe it is just me, but I see these things getting mingled into the wrong metaphors all the damn time.   Time to set the record straight, kinda…

The concept of right to work has nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of employment at will, except that unless you work in HR, you will not usually not hear these terms anywhere except at work, your lawyer’s office, or when you are filing for unemployment.

Right to Work

 Right to work deals with whether or employees can be required to join a union and required to pay union dues or not.   Individual states have the right to enact laws stating that people do not have to join a union or be required to pay dues.  There are currently 22 states with such laws on the books.   See the map from Wikipedia below to determine if your state is one of the twenty two states.    If you live in a gray state, you are not in a Right to Work state.  If you are in a union in a gray state, you can be required to join a union, and be required to pay union dues.  This is often called working in a “closed shop“, even though technically that terms refers to an outlawed practice which was a form of union security agreement under which the employer agreed to only hire union members, and employees had to remain members of the union at all times in order to remain employed.

Employment at Will

The legal definition of Employment at will generally means either employer or employee can end the employment relationship at any time.   According to About.com, employment at will means that an employee can be terminated at any time without any reason. It also means that an employee can quit without reason. Employers are not required to provide notice when terminating an at-will employee.

Numerous factors can modify the strict definition of employment at will including such things as state and local statutes, company policy statements in handbooks, the language of an offer letter, an employment contract, or having a collective bargaining agreement in place.  It is always wise to check local laws to understand the status of the area you are doing business in before making final decisions of employment relationships.

Just Cause

Most union contracts contain a specific or implied concept of just cause when it comes to ending an employment relationship.  Just cause is a higher standard for employment whereby an employer must prove just cause, often before an arbitrator in order to justify a termination.  The burden of proof rests with the employer in such cases.

Just Cause is also a video game, and a crappy movie from the 90′s starring Sean Connery and Laurence Fishburne.  Please don’t try to rent it by asking for “Right to Work” or “Employment at Will”!

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