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American Jobs 2012 - 2022: At Will Employment and Its Effects Among the Workforce of America

Updated on November 2, 2012
The Ohio Judicial Center and Supreme Court, on the Scioto River in Downtown Columbus.
The Ohio Judicial Center and Supreme Court, on the Scioto River in Downtown Columbus. | Source

Job Hop vs Gig

Up until the time that the IT Industry and Temporary Employment Companies exhibited or enabled hiring practices that sent workers switching jobs more frequently than once every two years in the 1990s, the definition of job-hopping changed. In fact, before that time, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association listed failure to hold a job for 2 years, or changing jobs more frequently than once every two years, as a behavior within certain personality disorders. Society, customs, and definitions change.

Up until the 1990s, someone walking down the street talking to himself and switching jobs every few months exhibited at least one Severe Mental Disorder. In the 2010s, He simply is using Bluetooth Technology to talk on a cell phone and is working as a contractor on short-term gigs, all average behavior for the current American workforce.

It is difficult to give a work reference on a contractor as well. This person was not an employee. When speaking with new companies interested in hiring former contract workers of mine, I found them insisting that I answer questions relevant only to salaried or hourly employment. What I did was to provide dates of contracts and data as to to what extent the contract requirements were fulfilled, which was legal in my state. Thankfully, all of these contractors had surpassed their goals and I was glad to say so.

Is At Will Employment Fair?

In At-Will Employment States in the US (all except Montana in 2011), employees without signed employment contracts (Employee Agreements are not contracts) and without union representation can be fired without notice and without reason. Ohio is one of these states since 1984 and the passing of the At Will Employment Law.

One of the results of this law is that most employers give very little background information about former employees when called for employment references. Many provide only dates of employment and last pay rate; some give only the dates. If there is a particular problem with a former worker, an employer may tell the caller that they would like to speak off the record. If that becomes an agreement, the former employer may provide negative information he or she feels is necessary to pass on to the new company. The caller will not pass this information on to the job candidate, because it may be grounds for an employment related lawsuit.

This entire process has given rise to our current dilemma of irrelevant Pre-Employment Credit Checks and relevant though more frequntly done Background Checks -- That is, if the negative information cannot be extracted from an employment reference, then some companies are of an attitude that it will show up as "bad credit" (it usually does not) and crime (it may indeed manifest as crime). So, we have the same type of problem with a different name. The result really is unfairness in Pre-Employment Credit Checks in industries other than, say, Banking and Finance where large sums are handled.

The method of answering a reference call with only dates of employment prevents many discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits from occurring. It is also frustrating to the new employer, because it removes access to any track record of behaviors related to employment. About the only thing possible to determine these days in an At-Will State is whether the job candidate is a job-hopper, someone that changes jobs several times a year or at least more than once per year. This is a change since the 1990s.

What Can Make At Will Employment Fair?

In At Will States, employers need to have published Employee Handbooks that states requirements and rights of both the company and the employee. A Sexual Harassment Policy (in the 2010s, this can really extend to any harassment) and Grievance Procedures must be put in writing and enforced. Workforce experts suggest that companies also put into place written Anti-Bully Policies.

Companies need to provide a clearly conducted and explained Employee Orientation and set, regular, and fair Employment Work Reviews with Merit-Based Raises. A Disciplinary Procedure Policy must also be written for fairness and good operations. Employers must keep good records of employees' work habits, achievements and challenges (and manner of handling challenges) - documentation is vital to fairness. Employees must also document their work lives from the day of their initial interview and keep a Work Portfolio to carry to their reviews.

If the Employer and the Employee both follow guidelines and regulations, maintain documentation consistently, and maintain open communications, then the At Will employment system can be fair. However, even all this cannot guarantee fairness in all cases and documentation is vital in EEO and legal actions.


A fast food unit in a chain in Central Ohio persuaded single parents, who were the most highly paid crew at the time, to quit by suddenly requiring all employees to be available during all hours of store operations, 6:30am - 9:00pm seven days a week. Health and medical insurances were also cancelled without notice. Neither of these actions was illegal.

In a large church ministry of 600 staff persons, the head pastor routinely walked through offices every 2-3 months and fired a single person at random to keep the rest alert and productive. Interestingly, because of legal actions taken by a few congregants over other matters, this facility laid off over half of its staff in order to stay operational. This was also sudden and unannounced, but legal in Ohio.

Another Part of the At Will Employment Act may be unfair as well --

Additional Employer Options In the At Will State

An employer may also change the terms of the employment with no notice and no consequences -- alter wages unannounced, terminate benefits unannounced, reduce paid time off, change work hours, etc. This can leave workers highly vulnerable to sudden termination, limited work hours (cuts), on-call work hours only, and other circumstances that benefit the employer.

See the link at the end of this Hub for additional instances that can be unfair to workers and for more information.

Should the At Will Employment Act be repealed, then consumer prices will likely increase with increasing wages resulting from contracts. Fewer workers will likely be hired to cover larger assignments of work because of the salary increases as well, as happens when Minimum Wages increase at State and Federal levels. Increased stress from decreased number of workers will lead to additional sick time taken and productivity lost, perhaps decreasing company revenues further because of lost business and poorer service. It is a dilemma.

What system would be fair to both employee and employer, without increasing costs and worker health risks to such an extent - and without constant employer vs. union employees sorts of strife? That is what we need.


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    • Indian-economics profile image

      Indian-economics 4 years ago

      Also, America's show down is effecting the job scenario of India

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      That's a pertinent question - my state has all government workers in unions with contracts. Wisconsin must be an interesting place to be right now.

    • American_Choices profile image

      American_Choices 6 years ago from USA


      We changed to an "at-will" company and I headed up the new policies under the guidance of our attorneys. Yes, we did all the right things and followed our legal counsel's advice. It only makes sense. It is more work for management but it also demands greater accountability which creates greater efficiency.

      The controversy in Wisconsin is the "at-will" for governmental employees. The implied contract, I thought was passe across all states for the last 2 decades. In your opinion, how does "at-will" affect governments and how should it affect state and local governments?

    • HendrikDB profile image

      HendrikDB 6 years ago


    • bettybarnesb profile image

      bettybarnesb 6 years ago from Bartlett, TN

      Hey Patty! This is a great summary of what the 90's were like comparied to now. Enjoyed your article very, very much.

      Be Blessed...

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      I see what you mean, Pop; that used to be the norm, right?! Don't know if people today in general have that stamina or dedication; maybe some.

      Some professionals are on-call 7 days a week and/or telecommute every day now, so I think this must be stress- inducing and mental-clobbering.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 6 years ago

      My husband is about to celebrate 40 years with the same corporation. Some people think that's a mental illness!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 6 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      How about that? lol

      The practice is only about 20 years old here in Ohio. In the 1980s and early 1990s, employers gave us a lot of information on former workers and even filled out reference questionnaires of 2 pages for us.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 6 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Fascinating article. Job Hopping? I had no idea I had a mental disorder. That explains a lot. ;)

      Regarding references from former employers, in my experience a former employer is protecting itself from lawsuits by only revealing position and dates of employment. It's not a new practice as far as I know.