Jennifer Scott │ November 4, 2020
People often confuse the terms “right-to-work” and “at-will.” While they can exist simultaneously, the expressions do have different meanings. Right-to-work laws were established to determine whether employees are required to join unions or other employment organizations. In contrast, at-will employment gives an employer the right to terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all, whereas giving an employee the right to leave a job with no legal consequences for either party. However, this does not apply if there is a contract between employer and employee or if the employee endures discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or age. Additionally, it is not legal for an employer to fire an employee as a retaliatory tactic. Currently, 28 states implement right-to-work laws, while 14 states sanction at-will employment.
Outwardly, it seems right-to-work laws and at-will employment protect employers and employees, alike. There are many instances, though, when employee rights are negatively impacted by an employer’s bad business practices. Sure, it is great not to be forced into joining a labor union or a trade union. Having the right to choose where to work and being able to leave a job without repercussions is also ideal. Yet, these perceived advantages usually come with a hefty price tag. Often, right-to-work laws and at-will employment create an exploitive work environment for employees. Some examples include:
- Numerous sudden changes in schedule
- An unspoken understanding one may be terminated for speaking up for personal rights
- No respect for an employee’s time off
- An expectation to do more work with less human and physical resources
- Being overworked and undercompensated
- Receiving a hostile attitude toward taking earned vacation time
- Constant blaming and shaming for company issues
- Having to work in a mentally or physically dangerous environment
- An overall “there is the door” attitude
It seems these occurrences have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, under the veil of this hidden agenda, an employee must also face the consequences of being denied unemployment benefits for utilizing their at-will right to discontinue working in such dire circumstances. So, the question is, who are the laws actually protecting?