Workplace Justice without Unions

Workplace Justice without Unions

Workplace Justice without Unions

Workplace Justice without Unions


Wheeler, Klaas, and Mahony provide a thorough analysis of organizational justice systems by exploring nonunion systems of workplace justice and comparing them with the union system, American courts, and systems in 11 other countries.


Where there is no rule of law but only the command of persons,
where secrecy and arbitrariness reign, where one never knows
when or why the axe will fall, there justice weeps. (Wolterstorff

Human dignity at the workplace requires just treatment by those holding authority. At the crux of this matter is protection from arbitrary action—action that is based upon personality rather than merit, and is not predictable on any reasoned basis. When a human being is treated merely as a means to an end or a thing to be employed by others, rather than as a person deserving justice, justice does indeed weep. This is especially true where a person’s job is at stake. In our society, an individual’s job is not only a source of economic goods, but also an important part of how we define ourselves—and others define us—and our role in society. Where workers can be terminated from their employment for any reason, or none at all, arbitrariness reigns. Yet, this is historically the basic principle of the law of employment termination in the United States.

The situation is quite different in Western Europe and nearly all other countries. In these countries, there exists a general principle of law that dictates that workers cannot be terminated without cause. This principle is enforced either in labor courts, other specialized courts, or in the general court system.

The American rule of employment-at-will—that a person can be fired at any time for any, or no, reason—has deep roots in the nation’s jurisprudence. It was announced in a legal treatise in 1877, and is known as “Wood’s rule,” named for the author of the treatise, Horace Gay Wood. He stated, “With us [in America, unlike in England] the rule is inflexible that a general or indefinite hiring is prima facie at will” (Willborn, Schwab, and Burton 1993, p. 15). It has remained the general rule ever since. Its practical result is that, absent a statute or contract to the contrary, workers have no right to insist upon a just cause for their termination.

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