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what exactly is the public policy exception to employment at
what exactly is the public policy exception to employment at will?
Violation of Public Policy One of the most visible exceptions to employment at-will that states are fairly consistent in recognizing, either through legislation or court cases, has been a violation of public policy; at least 44 states allow this exception. Violations of public policy usually arise when the employee is terminated for acts such as refusing to violate a criminal statute on behalf of the employer, exercising a statutory right, fulfilling a statutory duty, or reporting violations of statutes by an employer. States vary in terminology for the basis of a cause of action against her or his employer on this basis, and some require that the ex-employee show that the employer?s actions were motivated by bad faith, malice, or retaliation. public policy A legal concept intended to ensure that no individual lawfully do that which has a tendency to be injurious to the public or against the public good. Public policy is undermined by anything that harms a sense of individual rights. For instance, a state may have a law that says that qualified citizens must serve jury duty, unless they come within one of the statutory exceptions. The employer does not want the employee to miss work just because of jury duty. The employee serves jury duty and the employer fires the worker. The employee sues the employer for unjust dismissal. The employer counters with the at-will doctrine, which states that the employer can terminate the employee for any reason. The Jury System Improvements Act prohibits employers from discriminating based on jury service in federal courts. States vary in terms of their protection for state and local jury service. Even in states where the protection is less clear, many courts have then held that the employer?s termination of the employee under these circumstances would be a violation of public policy. Terminating the employee for fulfilling that statutory duty would therefore be a violation of public policy by the employer. In a Washington State Supreme Court case, Gardner v. Loomis Armored, Inc.,4 the court ruled that an employer violated public policy when it fired an armored-truck driver after the driver left the vehicle in order to rescue a robbery hostage. In that case, the driver was making a routine stop at a bank. When he saw the bank?s manager running from the bank followed by a man wielding a knife, he locked the truck?s door and ran to her rescue. While the woman was saved, the driver was fired for violating his employer?s policy prohibiting him from leaving his vehicle. The court held that his termination violated the public policy encouraging such ?heroic conduct.? Understanding the confusion sometimes left in the wake of decisions surrounding public policy (since it did not wish to create a responsibility for people to be Good Samaritans), the court explained that [t]his holding does not create an affirmative legal duty requiring citizens to intervene in dangerous life threatening situations. We simply observe that society values and encourages voluntary rescuers when a life is in danger. Additionally, our adherence to this public policy does nothing to invalidate [the firm?s] work rule regarding drivers? leaving the trucks. The rule?s importance cannot be understated, and drivers do subject themselves to a great risk of harm by leaving the driver?s compartment. Our holding merely forbids [the firm] from firing [the driver] when he broke the rule because he saw a woman who faced imminent life-threatening harm, and he reasonably believed his intervention was necessary to save her life. Finally, by focusing on the narrow public policy encouraging citizens to save human lives from life threatening situations, we continue to protect employers from frivolous lawsuits.5 On the other hand, while courts often try to be sensitive to family obligations, being there for one?s family is not a sufficient public policy interest; and a refusal to work overtime in consideration of those obligations was deemed a legal basis for termination. The termination of an at-will employee for meeting family obligations did not violate a public policy or any legally recognized right or duty of the employee.6 While the courts that have adopted the public policy exception agree that the competing interests of employers and society require that the exception be recognized, there is considerable disagreement in connection with what is the public policy and what constitutes a violation of the policy.
What are some examples of activities that are protected by the public policy exception to employment at will?
Example: A armored truck driver is under employer mandate never to open his door and leave his truck under any circumstances. The driver, while parked outside a bank, notices a man assault a woman in a parking lot just feet from truck. He departs his truck and prevents the man from inflicting serious damage on the woman. His employer terminates his employment for insubordination. Is the driver protected by the public policy exception to employment at will?
This question was answered on: Feb 21, 2020
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