‘Employment-at-will’ is a law that states that an employer or employee can terminate a contract of indefinite duration for any reason at any time (Terry&Elaine, 2011). The usual practice by employers and employees is to terminate contracts at will so long as either party provides a reason. The reason may be good or bad and no party questions the authenticity of the reason given for the termination of a contract. This law is applicable to all employees under the express employment contracts (Terry&Elaine, 2011). The latter requires that employers terminate employees with good reason. Worker unions can negotiate the ‘good reason’ given in case a union employee under an express contract is terminated from employment. This means that the ‘at-will’ law does not apply to workers in unions. Apart from express contract and union employees, the law does not affect workers with agreements that have a specific shelf life (Terry&Elaine, 2011). This is because the law also gives employers the right to renew or decline to renew employee contracts once the contract legally expires.
Dr. Milton claimed that the IIT Research Institute terminated him wrongfully, which is contrary to the Maryland laws. This case generated two legal issues. The first issue was the choice of law to govern the claim made by the defendant. The second legal issue that arose was if the claims made are viable under the chosen laws. The chief Judge, Wilkinson stated that the Maryland Law applied to his claim. However, he also added the Maryland laws did not have definite laws on how to deal with Dr. Milton’s claims of wrongful discharge from employment. This is because the Maryland laws can only be exercised if the defendant had claimed termination due to his refusal to participate in activities that were illegal. In addition, Milton had not pointed out any statutory duty to disclose the wrongful activities of the IITR. For these reasons, the judges dismissed the Milton case from court.
It is true that if Dr. Milton had succeeded in winning the case, other corporate officers who are fired over a disagreement with their employee would have a leeway in the court of law. This is because the the Maryland laws do not have clear rules on how to treat the complaints lodged by Dr. Milton. Making an exception for Dr. Milton under the Maryland laws would mean that the courts would treat other cases similar to Dr. Miltons’ to the same exceptions. More so, other complainants who have previously lost cases against their employers would re-open their cases with the view that the courts will treat their cases with the same principle of law. An alternative that Dr. Milton should have pursued was to find another law that would favor his case.
The act revised the principle of the ‘employment-at-will’ law that stated employers could terminate employee contracts for any reason. This act that was passed in 1987 set to limit the freedom of the employees in claiming wrongful discharge while giving them a more solid ground for suing their employers if the reasons given for termination were not good enough (Lewin, 2012). The Montana act protects employees since it stated several instances where employees may consider the reasons given by the terminating party as ‘wrongful discharge’. These instances include cases where a discharge is because an employee had refused to go against public policy, if the discharge was not for a good cause and, finally, if the employer, in discharging the employee, had violated his personal or company’s policies (Lewin, 2012).
Given the above scenario, Milton would have fared better under the Montana act. This is because his claim of wrongful discharge falls squarely under the Montana act. The act would have favored him because, according to his claim, his employer terminated him because he refused to go against policy.
The SOX law would have protected Dr. Milton since it stipulates that anyone who conceals, falsifies, or mutilates documents and records in an effort to cover up financial misdemeanors is a criminal and is liable to be prosecution according to the law (Rudy, 2010). Further, the crime of concealing financial misdemeanors carries a fine or imprisonment of not more than twenty years.
Dr. Milton argues that his employer allegedly fired him for refusing to contend with the latter’s act of refusal to report the company’s taxable income generated from other IITR’S business that did not fall under scientific research for public interest. Therefore, Dr. Milton could say the deed of reporting his company’s wrongdoing was per the requirements of the SOX law. Dr. Milton would thereof have argued that he revealed his company’s financial wrongdoings because the SOX law entitled him to do so.
Despite the stringent laws that govern employment contracts, courts have had exceptions and allowed employees to bring suits against their employees. However, the courts have limited these exceptions to instances where the public policy has legal basis. Such exceptions are seen in some cases where the employee cited a statutory right. In a leading case, a Kentucky Supreme Court cited that an employer should not terminate an employee from duty for filing a compensation claim against the company.
Courts have also given exceptions where employees are fired because they have refused to go against a statute. Thereby, the exceptions apply to employees who refuse to break the law to defend the employee. For example, the courts made an exception to public policy law in a suit by an employee who declined to dispose trash in places where the federal law prohibits dumping of waste (Covey, 2009). In addition, employees who refuse to perjure themselves in court for the sake of their employers have found exceptions to the public policy law. Another instance where courts exempt employees from public policy law is in cases whereby the employee is fired for giving testimony against their employers in a court of law.
In some instances, a public policy exception can be made for an employee who has filed a case against his employee for breach of rights (Covey, 2009). An employee claiming that he has been fired because he had refused to join the company’s lobbying efforts can cite his refusal to the fact that the lobbying went against his personal rights. In this case, the court can state that the employee had a right to free speech as provided for in the constitutions of Pennsylvania and US constitutions. Moreover, the court can show exemptions in cases where the employee states that the employer was encroaching on their privacy. The court can conclude that employees had their rights to privacy protected under the Pennsylvania constitution (Covey, 2009).
Terry, Halbert.& Ingulli, Elaine. (2011). Law and Ethics in the Business Environement.
NewYork: Cengage Learning.
Covey, Anne. (2009). Workplace Law Advisor: From Harassment and Discrimination Policies
to Hiring and Firing Guidelines—What Every Manager and Employee Needs to Know. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus.
Lewin, Joel. (2012). Every Employee’s Guide to the Law: Everything You Need to Know about
Your Rights in the Workplace—and What To Do If They Are Violated. New York: Pantheon.
Rudy, Jesse. (2010). “What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them: Defending Employment-At-
Will in Light of Findings that Employees Believe They Possess Just Cause Protection.” Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law 23 (winter): 307