Most of the employment contracts that are offered in the United States today are considered to be at-will contracts. This means most workers are considered at will employees. This means that employees can work for their employer in the position offered each scheduled day or decide to abandon employment at any time. On the other side of the equation, employers can terminate at will employees for virtually any reason that does not qualify as discrimination. Is this a beneficial method of employment? Here are the pros and cons of at will employees to consider.
The Pros of At Will Employees
1. It allows employees the flexibility to find a better job.
When the employment market consists of at-will offers, then employees have the ability to work toward finding a better payment contract. As skills improve and experience increases, they become more marketable to other businesses. Being at-will allows the employee to terminate their current employment immediately and begin a better job right away.
2. Employees can be promoted based on merit.
Instead of being forced to promote employees based on seniority or other negotiated rules, at will employees can be promoted because of the merits of their action. This encourages workers to keep working hard every day to be productive because there’s always a chance to earn their way into a better paying position.
3. There’s no need to keep negotiating employment contracts.
Many union contracts will cover a specific period of time, which is usually 2-5 years for most industries. This contract governs the entire working relationship between management and the employees. When these contracts come up for renewal, an extensive negotiating process between the two sides must generally take place and this can rob the organization of productivity.
4. Striking employees, hold-outs, and other issues are virtually non-existent.
If employees are in an at-will arrangement, then they are going to be productive at some level every working day. There are no provisions for striking or holding out because the employer can just terminate the offer of employment if that occurs. This eliminates the issues that organizations face with union employment because there’s no way for the management to be held hostage. They can just fire the current group of workers and hire new ones.
The Cons of At Will Employees
1. It is a lot easier to hire slow and fire quick.
If you have an employee that is under-performing, then they can be terminated immediately for those actions. This may qualify them for unemployment insurance if there isn’t a paper trail of disciplinary action, but there is no possibility of litigation because the termination was for an inability to fulfill the employment contract.
2. Employers can fire employees for virtually any reason.
In some at-will arrangements, just showing up with the wrong color of shirt on can be enough justification to legally fire someone. This gives an employer a benefit, but employees have a disadvantage because they are never really 100% secure with their job. This means most employees will create a backup plan so they can continue having an income and this may rob the employer of productivity.
3. There is no real way for employees to modify the working environment.
Instead of negotiating with an employer about worker safety or other workplace issues, the only real way for at will employees to create a safer environment for themselves is to quit their job. Although this can happen without penalty, it does mean that the worker will no longer have a source of income until they are offered a new position somewhere else.
4. The laws about at-will employment are constantly evolving.
What constitutes at will employment varies from state to state and country to country. What might be considered discrimination in one jurisdiction might be considered a legal termination somewhere else. These laws are constantly shifting and evolving, which can be a good thing as it may mean more worker and employee protections, but it also creates an added level of uncertainty because no one is really in control of the employment situation.
The pros and cons of at will employment allow for workers to be promoted or fired based on productivity and conduct. This allows workers to potentially control their own destiny, but it also allows employers to make changes whenever they deem it to be necessary. That’s why it should be carefully considered by all organizations before a final decision is made on this subject.