The Ethics of Employment-at-Will: An Institutional Complementarities Approach

Carson Young (Department of Business Administration) and co-author Vikram Bhargava of George Washington University recently published a peer-reviewed article in Business Ethics Quarterly about the ethics of employment-at-will.


Employment-at-will (EAW) is the legal presumption that employers and employees may terminate an employment relationship for any or no reason. Defenders of EAW have argued that it promotes autonomy and efficiency. Critics have argued that it allows for the domination, subordination, and arbitrary treatment of employees. We intervene in this debate by arguing that the case for EAW is contextual in a way that existing business ethics scholarship has not considered. In particular, we argue that the justifiability of EAW for a given jurisdiction depends on existing complementarities among the institutions that constitute the jurisdiction’s political economy. Notably, our view takes seriously the ethical concerns EAW critics have raised by showing how these concerns can be mitigated through public policy measures that do not require eliminating EAW.

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Carson Young:

Posted: April 12, 2022