This Parent's Story Reveals a Common Employment Problem

January 5th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

On the same day that his son was born, a part-time security guard in New Hampshire received a text notifying him that he'd lost his job. Lamar Austin had missed shifts over the weekend while his wife was in labor, and because he was considered an "at-will" employee, the security company wasn't required to justify his abrupt termination.


After The Concord Monitor first reported the story on Sunday, several readers reached out to help. He's received at least three job offers, and someone also set up a GoFundMe page for the family, according to the Monitor.

Regardless of the outcome, Austin's experience calls attention to the shortcomings of at-will employment.

At-will employment is the default status for American workers who aren't under contract with their employers. It's an employment relationship that allows workers to leave their job at any time without fear of legal recourse, and similarly, employers are able to fire employees without reason as long as the decision doesn't violate federal law. At-will employers can also change the terms of the employment relationship — by reducing wages, for example — without notice or reason, according to The National Conference of State Legislatures.

Worker in a grocery store

Because the security company Austin worked for operates under an at-will employment policy, the controversy over his termination is unlikely to fuel any legal action. The company isn't legally liable unless it's found guilty of violating federal or state employment laws such as those prohibiting workplace discrimination, the NCSL explained. 

"Legal niceties aside, this company could have acted more humanely," attorney Andru Volinsky told the Monitor on Wednesday. "We’ve seen over the years that there are many good employers that act fairly and some that act unfairly, but it’s only when the employees are organized and act collectively that they are able to negotiate for protections that include paid family leave."

[h/t The Concord Monitor]