Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has caused a stir by saying that Barack Obama is a "food stamp president" and that poor people should want paychecks, not handouts. Gingrich went on to say that he wants to help poor people "learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job."
The Gingrich statement presents all sorts of problems, including its ugly, not-so-subtle racial undertones. But perhaps the biggest problem is this: Almost no one in the United States "owns" his job. In fact, most of us essentially work on a day-to-day basis. Given that unpleasant fact of American life, how are people--poor or otherwise--supposed to accomplish something that, by law, cannot be done in this country?
Here is the reality that Newt Gingrich is ignoring: The overwhelming majority of Americans work under an "at will" arrangement. At-will employment is a legal doctrine that means either party in an employment environment can break the relationship without liability, unless a contract expressly states otherwise.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Montana is the only state where at-will employment does not prevail.
The basic tenet of at-will employment is this: "You can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all." Talk to any employment lawyer, and you are likely to hear those words verbatim. The only exception, for the most part, is if an employer violates a federal discrimination law, and those generally are limited to characteristics such as race, gender, age, national origin, religion, or disability.
Having been fired in May 2008 from my job as a university editor, after 19 years on the job and with a spotless work record, I know first-hand how tenuous your hold on any job can be in the US of A.
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