Ethical Issues with Termination
At-will employment means that the employee or employer has the right “to end the employment relationship at any time with or without notice or cause.” (FedEx Office: AllBusiness, 1999-2009) Involuntary termination is a touchy subject for employers and it can happen for numerous reasons: specific cause, such as stealing, poor performance, and layoffs due to lack of work.Even though most companies have an “at-will” relationship with their employees, it is still arguably illegal to terminate an employee for no reason.When it comes to termination, managers are faced with current moral and ethical issues.
In a lot of companies, in addition to professional relationships, managers develop personal relationships with their employees. In most cases, employees spend a majority of their week (40+ hours) with their “work family.
” Co-workers learn about each other’s families, extra-curricular activities, and personal problems. Even if managers try to separate themselves from their employees on a personal level, it is difficult to ignore new school pictures being displayed on their desks or avoid a discussion about a recent weekend vacation.When legitimate problems arise in a company which requires involuntary termination, the manager faces a dilemma. They must fire an employee because it is best for the company and ignore the thoughts of how it will affect their family and personal life. Often times, employees take the involuntary termination harder because they feel betrayed by someone they considered their “friend”. When an employee is terminated, in more cases than not, they feel blind-sided; most of them “never saw it coming”.It is essential that employers set and follow standard documentation procedures that will provide a timeline of disciplinary action and performance reviews that will serve as proof of legitimate termination if necessary.
A disgruntled employee may question the validity of their termination and in some cases seek legal counsel to help them determine if there was just cause. The current social issues in the United States may make it more difficult for a manager to terminate an employee while at the same time it is more than necessary.The financial state of the country is causing businesses to struggle which results in less profits; less profits mean that a company’s productions will be lowered so they cannot afford and do not need the same number of employees. In this case, an employee may not have given any cause for termination but managers must choose which employee they are willing to lose. They may choose the last hired, the highest paid, or the employee that is least valuable.Knowing that the rate of unemployment is at an all time high and the possibility of finding other employment may take longer than usual, the manager faces a tough a decision when thinking of how their decision will negatively each person they must terminate. Severance packages may be offered in exchange for “a full release of all claims” that may be filed against the company for wrongful termination.
Tough economical times may cause disgruntled employees to take whatever measures necessary to generate income for their family. I have been a victim of wrongful termination.In 2002, I started working as an assistant to the Office Manager of a small financial company. There were only two other people above the Office Manager and that was a person in sales position and then the President of the company. I quickly caught on and was given more responsibilities as well as a pretty healthy increase in pay. Working in a small office allows for unconventional relationships between managers and employees; we shared the same interests, shared a similar sense of humor which resulted in a workplace friendship between all of us.Lunch trips and shopping breaks turned into personal Christmas party invitations and summer beach house vacations.
We were all very close and business was increasing so more employees were hired to work under me. My supervisor and I became almost interchangeable. If she was not there, I took over and performed her duties, although she could not perform mine. I sensed animosity building and tension rising, but overall I knew I was there as her assistant and was careful to never overstep my boundaries.Business slowed and our sales structure changed, so cuts were being made. The sales person was let go and I think she felt that one of us would be next; even though she had been there longer I know she felt threatened that I could perform her job as well as mine. She started targeting me; purposefully changing my changing after my school schedule had been approved, moving my desk unnecessarily, and creating an overall hostile work environment by addressing everyone in a room except for me.
I knew what she was doing; being a part of the “inside upper management”, I had witnessed her do it to others before. Her strategy was to make employees quit in order to avoid the expense of paying unemployment wages. One week, she called me into an office to discuss my work performance and stated that she was giving me a warning. I knew that she was now trying to create a paper trail of disciplinary problems, even though nothing had changed in my performance.The following week she requested another meeting and said that she was writing me up for personal internet usage. Previously, it was acceptable for us to check our personal email, and she and I would collectively read news and gossip and exchange stories across the room. I refused to sign the disciplinary notice because I had not been informed of any policy changes, so that was then considered insubordination.
I was asked to leave; I immediately went to the Department of Labor to file for unemployment due to wrongful termination.I explained to them that my termination was not legitimate. I waited for them to contact my employer and of course they provided a copy of the form that I refused to sign. The Department of Labor declined my request for unemployment compensation, so I appealed their decision and wrote a very long letter explaining everything I knew about how my supervisor “set up” previous employees to keep them from receiving unemployment. I also requested a phone interview in which both I and my supervisor would be present with a Department of Labor representative.My supervisor declined the request; I assume because she knew she was wrong and did not want to be faced with questions regarding what I wrote. Nine months later, I was contacted by the President of the company stating that they had tried to hire several people to take my place and he realized that he should have never allowed her to terminate me.
He offered me a large salary increase and a promise that my employment status will never be in her hands. She still works with me, and we are “friends” again, but I have definitely learned to keep office friendships to a minimum.Today we are able to laugh at the situation; deep down I think she respects me for standing up for myself and she knows that I am a great asset to the company. Termination is not something that anyone ever looks forward to, be it the employee or the employer. Unfortunately it has to be done, and employers must take steps to protect themselves from lawsuits and disgruntled employees. Employees must learn that although there may be a “relationship” with their manager, the manager must first look out for the business’s best interest and it may ot always include them as an employee.References Butler, B.
(2009). Right-to-Work and At-Will Employee. Today’s Workplace: A Workplace Fairness Blog. Retrieved on December 7, 2009. Farr, . (2000, November). Terminations Require Careful Study, Planning.
Small Business, (), 15. FedEx Office: AllBusiness. (1999-2009). Decreasing the Legal Risks of Employee Termination.