Chap. 20 Lesson
Chapter 20 Lesson
20 - Contemporary Legal Issues in Employment
After completing this lesson, the required reading, and the assignments, learners will be able to:
1. Describe the concept of employment at will and the primary exceptions to it.
2. Discuss guidelines for avoiding defamation of former employees.
3. Discuss and analyze the legal issues involving employee privacy, including drug and honesty testing, employee use of
email and the Internet, and off-the-job activities.
Employment at Will
The relationship between employee and employer is contractual.
While many employees have contracts which govern the terms
of their employment, most employees in this country are
Employment at will means that an employee can
quit her job at any time for any reason or no reason at all, and that her employer may terminate employment at any time for any
reason or no reason at all.
However, this doesn't really mean "any" reason, because there are many exceptions to at-will
employment, which are discussed below and in Chapters 21 and 22.
For instance, Congress has created many statutory
exceptions to the doctrine of at-will employment.
Chapter 21 is devoted entirely to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which
prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, and national origin.
The Americans with
Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which are covered in Chapter 22, also created statutory
exceptions to employment at will.
This chapter covers the three
common law exceptions
to at-will employment.
When an employee is fired in violation of one of
these three exceptions, or because of any of the statutory exceptions mentioned above and discussed in later chapters, the
employee has been
Violation of Public Policy
Your book states that the public policy exception to employment at will means that "it is unlawful to terminate an employee for
doing something that the official public policy of the state supports or promotes, such as refusing to break the law."
employee who is fired for refusing to break the law has been wrongfully discharged because the termination was in violation of
This exception also means that an employee cannot be fired for doing something the law requires, such as jury
Express or Implied Contracts of Employment
Applying what you learned in Chapter 12, you should already know what an express employment contract is.
is simply a written contract (it could be oral, but usually is not) which covers most or all of the terms
Such a contract would typically spell out the employee's salary and the term of the contract.
In other circumstances, even in the absence of an express contract, a court may hold that the employer created an