Thoughts On At-will Employment Ethics

What ethical responsibilities does an employee have in a state which is an at-will employment state? Does the employee owe their employer some notice? If so, does that same obligation rest with the employer? Of course not, although there is some pretense of this given. However, it seems to me that the most common scenario is one in which the employee is expected to give adequate notice, if not excessive notice, and the employer is allowed the free latitude to “do what is good for the business” rather than what is good for the employee.

Some of this is due to the imbalance of power inherent within the relationship, but some of it is socially reinforced, is explicitly stated on the part of employers, and is reinforced through an indirect pathway, in that prospective employers will evaluate a prospective employee based upon whether or not they have left their current position with hard feelings. Started differently, it appears that individuals are willing to punish their peers for not giving adequate notice, while simultaneously allowing latitude on the part of the corporation. This social reinforcement of notice serves to allow the individuals within the corporation to maintain some semblance of stability, while allowing the corporation flexibility. There is tension here, however, simply because individuals are applying a standard to others which they would not apply to themselves. If you ask anyone in a corporation whether or not they have a moral obligation to give a notice, they will probably be reluctant to honestly own that they do. I think, people intuitively understand that there is an imbalance here, and understand that it is not ethically right of them to enforce such a standard of notice upon their peers, while simultaneously preserving the option for themselves to not give notice.

This is one area in which individuals are willing to accept a double standard with regards to ethics. Employees grant privileges and latitude to corporations to perform acts which the individuals themselves would find ethically repugnant. This double standard is part of what allows corporate structures to perform unethical actions while their employees feel that they as people are being ethical.

People inherently resist holding corporations to the same ethical standards as they do individual humans. That is not to say that individuals are not in favor of holding corporations ethically accountable. That is merely to say that individuals instinctively understand the corporations are fundamentally different than human beings, and should not be afforded the same rights or privileges, and nor should they be necessarily required to uphold the same moral standards. However, absent any critical thinking on the moral standards of corporations, and any means of connecting the opinions of the individuals within the regulation in a meaningful way to the corporations actions, we will be left with this double standard in place, and largely unrecognized.


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