15 April 2008

The Crossfire of Employee Treatment

(7 April 2008) - The rights and responsibilities of employees in the workplace have great opportunity to conflict with one another. While an employee may have the responsibility to fulfill a certain duty per the fine text of a labor contract agreement, that employee also has the right to refuse work above and beyond the salaried time or at a higher risk than that which the employee feels to be personally acceptable. These types of "human rights" in the workplace have blossomed into prevailing issues of ethical treatment of employees over the past thirty years and seem to be today at a point that is often too complicated for employers to even want to deal with.

Traditionally, as mentioned in Chapter 3 of Ethical Theory and Business, businesses followed the principle of "Employment-at-Will"--wherein "the freedom of the employee to quit, the freedom of the employer to fire, and the right of the employer to order the employee to do his or her bidding" (107) were the standard practice. After 1980s and -90s legislation passed laws forbidding the firing of employees in a manner that could be construed as discriminatory (ie. relating to age, sex. nationality, handicapped-ness) and for failure to comply with suggestive action perceived as a sexual advance, the traditional approach to employment was thrown away. Companies were essentially forced by the legal restraints on employee treatment to build human resources departments which dedicate an absurd amount of time and process to ensuring that the rights of individuals were not infringed upon.

So today, with employee rights on every manager's mind, the workplace is in a Golden Age, right? It's questionable. An extreme example of the crossfire involved is the court decision made in "Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc., which determined that employers cannot legally adopt 'fetal protection policies' that exclude women of childbearing age from a hazardous workplace, because such policies involve illegal sex discrimination" (110). If a company cannot legally prevent a female from performing a job which can have a significant health impact on females only, without fear of court scrutiny, has room been left for the company to disclose the hazardous conditions at all? Isn't it possible that some women out there may have a strong desire to know that employment of some kind can potentially impair the growth of a fetus currently being carried or is possible of developing in the future?

To cope with the possibility of the given example and other complexities of the ethical worker treatment concern, businesses are again finding a way to return to the old, traditional EAW (Employment-at-Will) principle by having employees necessarily "sign their life away" as terms of the contract (ie. validating the employers right to fire at any time, etc.) so that businesses can once again functionally operate within the law. What's next? Taking away the right for a person to agree to and sign a document that effectively takes away their rights


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