Saturday, May 19, 2007

Wrongful Abandonment

Ignoring contractual obligations, a person can quit for whatever reason they wish. They can quit because they found a new job, or their commute is too long, or their boss smells funny, or they think the janitor's ugly. To my knowledge, there are no rules conducting conditions of quitting beyond the aforementioned contracts.

But there are those of firing. There's even a name for it: "wrongful termination." If you fire a janitor because they smell funny or are ugly, you can get sued. If you quit because your boss is ugly or smelly, you can't. Why does a boss get less discretion, flexibility, and freedom than their employees? If there's wrongful termination, shouldn't there be wrongful abandonment?

Last night I had a long conversation with a friend's neighbor at a party and this was one of the challenges I presented to him. He argued that an employer has more leverage than employees. I'm not sure how he reached this conclusion. If an employee suddenly quits that creates more work for the other employees, productively suffers, and the the company has to bear the costs of finding and training someone new. If this person was sufficiently specialized or quit at the right time, it could prove disastrous for the firm.

The bottom line is employers are not doing employees a favor by giving them a job. It's a mutually benefiting arrangement. Employers get some sort of productivity and employees get a paycheck. If one party can terminate this relationship for whatever (contractually viable) reason they wish, why can't the other?


Anonymous said...

The flaw in your argument is one of ratios. An employee has one employer, but an employer has many employees. If an employee quits, yes things are tougher on the others, but the responsibilities left behind are spread over more people so the impact is less.

Now consider the impact on the ex-employee because of the sudden job loss. Instead of many people handling the additional duties, it's one person. Plus the nature of the new duties are more serious than the additional work the remaining employees must now do.

Oh, one other thing, if someone is preparing to leave a job or fire someone, it's easier for the employer to plan and adapt than the employee.

That's why the sudden termination of employment should favor the employee.

David said...

I thought about such notions of ratios but ultimately decided the logic still holds. Employers do hire many more employees than they need. Why? There are two reasons they do this: in case there's a sudden need for more hands and because people can quit anytime they want.

Just as an employer can (usually) fire when an employee happens to need the job, an employee can quit when the sudden work load happens to appear. By contrast, employees can save. But they often don't partly because of wrongful termination laws--they have a legal buffer. Firms, lacking similar protection, have to bear the cost of change themselves. They have to hire more people.

This is why firms have an easier time firing than a person has quitting: because the law encourages firms to take care of unpredictablity but employees get special protection. Naturally, they don't protect themselves.

Anonymous said...

Let's see if I understand. You work for me, you quit, I sue for "wrongful abandonment". I win and you come back to work. Are you a productful worker? Might you be inclined to screw up so I will fire you and you can be free of me? Sometimes, the logical answer needs a reality check.


David said...

And of course we can go the other way. You work for me. I fire you, you sue for wrongful terminiation. You win and come back to work. Will I be a good boss? Won't I treat you badly so you quit on your own accord? This is why such laws involve cash settlements, not forced employment.

This is also why both versions are bad ideas.

Anonymous said...

So if the employer is ready for the sudden departure of an employee, how is the employer harmed? But on the flip side, an employee who is suddenly terminated is harmed a great deal more. That is why employees need protection.

You act like employees choose not to protect themselves. Well you're wrong, protecting yourself takes resources and many people don't have enough. Business have far greater resources than most people so they don't need outside protection.

Also what's more likely to happen, someone quitting their job without notification or someone getting fired without warning? I have never seen an instance where someone came in, quit, then left. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but I've seen people fired without warning too often.