New employees get confounded when in a job contract; they find that they will be employed on an at-will basis. The employees get more anxious when they find that at-will employment means that the employer can let them go for different reasons other than those that may attract legal consequences. However, at-will employment has been in existence for decades in the United States of America. In fact, employment in all American states except Montana is deemed to be at-will. However, there are exemptions to the application of the doctrine by employers and employees. This paper summarizes the employment-at-will doctrine, analyzes three scenarios to determine whether the employees should be fired or not, and discusses at-will employment in Pennsylvania.

The at-will doctrine can be traced to the Industrial Revolution period. Before modifications, the creed asserted that employers and employees can terminate their relationship without good cause or any cause at all and not attracting legal consequences. The legal underpinning of this agreement was the “freedom of contract” which expressed that employers had the right to dispose their proprietorship at will, including their employees, as they saw fit. Before being modified, the doctrine implied that a laborer who labored for an unstipulated time did so at the requirements of the employer. As such, since there was no legal clause in the agreement between the employer and the employee, either party could terminate the employment any time. Though this doctrine initially seemed like an impartial policy, the employers had the upper hand as they could easily discharge the employees. Today, at-will employment is still recognized in many American states, but different states have added some clauses and introduced the contracts to define the working relationships between employers and employees.

There are three chief exceptions to the rule which limit the use of this doctrine. First is a public policy exemption. This is the most widely recognized exception which stipulates that an employee should not be discharged wrongfully when the termination is explicitly against the state’s established public policy. For instance, in most of the American states an employee should not be discharged for filing a compensation claim if injured on the job. The second exemption is when organizations have an implied contract. This contract can be made without an expressly written agreement. Instead, spoken or written agreements may serve to define the relationship between employers and employees. By the way, about 38 American states apply this exception. The third exemption is the covenant of good faith. It implies that fair dealing is expected in an employer-employee relationship. As such, it asserts that decisions made by employers should be based on “just cause” and terminations depicting bad faith or are motivated by malevolence are forbidden.

In the case scenarios provided, as the astute manager, there are cases where I can fire the employees and others where only a warning or any other disciplinary action rather than termination is suitable. Three of the scenarios are analyzed herein.

In the scenario where John posts a rant criticizing the company’s most important company, this employee can be legally fired. The company has a responsibility to the respectful and honorable treatment of customers regardless of who they are. This respect is extremely imperative now that the company is preparing for IPO. If John had issues with the customer, he should have brought it up in company meetings or discussed with the management. He should have reconsidered his decision to post about a customer on Facebook. The company is probably in jeopardy and is likely to lose one of its most important customers. Obviously, John has undeniably violated the procedures, policies, and ethics of the company. His termination, therefore, has “good cause” grounds. Companies need to maintain respectful and professional business relationships with the clients and John put it in danger.

The ethics of care would best support the decision to fire John as it informs of the nurturing ties between the company and clients. This will help rebuild client confidence among the consumers. The use of social media continues to evoke litigious debates. Therefore, as a manager, I will hold a discussion with the employees to have a conversation about the use of such platforms, especially when debating the issues related to clients, fellow employees, and the company. Policies governing the same should be put in place, with rules and regulations clearly stipulated. Though the constitution protects people’s free speech, the company should be very careful when exercising this right because it might be injurious to its reputation.

In the second scenario, Ellen started a blog protesting against the CEO, portrayed the bosses as know-nothings. Even when one is blogging about their company, a person should not be abusive either to their superiors or their fellow employees. The topics written or discussed in the blog should be objectionable and not incendiary. Though no one below the director had gotten a raise in a while, Ellen should have raised the issue with her superiors. Ellen’s labels are insulting, and though they were produced away from work, she has no protection under the First Amendment. For having violated the ethics and morals of the company, she can be discharged under at-will-employment. The Virtue of Ethics considers this decision as the best one. The directors of the company might have taken offense at the insults and hence, since she had no respect for the Virtue of Ethics, Ellen should be fired. The company needs to establish the rules for the use of social media, especially when discussions about the company are involved. As the result, scenarios that can lead to termination should be explicitly stated to help avoid such situations in future. When the employer has the effective policies to deal with Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and personal blogging, this helps prevent lawsuits between employers and employees.

The last scenario involves Anna. Her boss refused to sign her leave request and now wants to fire her for being absent without permission. Under the employment-at-will, firing Anna has legal consequences. She might sue the company for wrongful termination. As such, it is better not to fire her. This decision is informed by the Deontology Ethics which describes the company’s right and responsibility to comply with jury service as being among the important civil and community duties. Further, firing Anna would create an injurious reputation to the company. Since the IPO is nigh, issues arising from employees suing the company should not arise. To limit liability, one should hold a discussion on what to do in such a scenario. Managers need to understand that though they are leaders, the other employees have their rights. Violation of these rights can lead to lawsuits for the company. Thus, policies and procedures analyzing and providing solutions for cases such as Anna’s should be made clear.

In Pennsylvania, the general rule is that employment is at-will. An employee is at liberty to quit, and the employer is at will to fire anytime, with or without any prior notice. As such, an employee has no legal right to remain in an employment whereas an employer has no right to have the employer remain under their employment. However, like other states, there are several exceptions. Civil service, unionized, or statutorily protected employees are protected from the at-will doctrine in my state. Township employees are thus protected by rules of the civil service, collective bargaining policies and the state laws.

There are many cases showing the application of the doctrine in Pennsylvania. A good example is of Roman V. McMuire Memorial where Brandy Roman sued her employer for wrongful termination. She had been terminated on failure to work the required overtime in the facility. However, in the Court of Common Pleas Brandy argued that her termination was unlawful as it violated Pennsylvania’s public policy as indicated in the Prohibition of Excessive Overtime in Health Care Act. The court established that the act gave legal rights to sue the employee. This Act disallows Pennsylvanian healthcare facilities from mandatorily requiring hourly, non-supervisory employees who directly care for patients to work overtime unless an emergency occurs. It further prohibits a punitive action to those who refuse to accept mandated overtime. The court, on November 2015, noted the presumption presented by the employment-at- will, but Brandy Roman was protected by the state acts from the wrongful dismissal.

In conclusion, employees need to be keen to establish the application of the at-will doctrine in their workplace. As this paper demonstrates, in spite of employment been deemed as at-will in a majority of the American states, three major exemptions, public policy, implied contract, and covenant of good faith limit the extent to which the at-will doctrine can be used. However, in some cases, employees can still fire their employees without good cause. The case study provided demonstrates an example of how Acts such as Act 102 protect employees against the use of at-will employment.

About the author: Jennifer Cooper is a bachelor in English philology and literature at Michigan University. Jennifer is currently working as one of the best writers at the She also studies feminine psychology.