Law Quadrangle (formerly Law Quad Notes)


This article was originally presented as a lecture given on Nov. 19, 1987, and subsequently published by the Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Los Angeles, as The Second Annual Benjamin Aaron Lecture on the Role of Public Policy in the Employment Relationship. Reprinted by permission. Copyright 1988 by the Regents of the University of California. The series commemorates the career of Professor Emeritus Benjamin Aaron, long-time director of the Institute and eminent scholar on the faculty of the UCLA School of Law.

The past decade has seen a genuine revolution in employment law, as some 40 American jurisdictions, in square holdings or strong dictum and on one or more diverse theories, have modified the conventional doctrine whereby employers "may dismiss their employees at will . .. for good cause, for no cause or even for cause morally wrong." In this paper I shall briefly review the theories most frequently invoked by the courts in dealing with wrongful dismissal and indicate their deficiencies as a permanent solution for the problem. Next, I shall summarize the major arguments for and against the doctrine of employment at will. Finally, I shall consider some of the particular issues that will have to be resolved in any proposed legislation. But first, to view the whole question from a somewhat different perspective, I should like to look at a few sociopsychological factors that may help explain why the United States remains today the last major industrial democracy in the world without generalized "just cause" protections for its workers.