Unlike most countries, where employers have to provide reasons and just cause for termination of employment, in the United States, at-will employment, which dictates that you can be fired for any reason at all, is the norm.
But that came to an end this past summer as New York City implemented new laws prohibiting fast-food chains from terminating or suspending employees without “just cause” or even reducing their hours by more than 15% without a bulletproof economic reason or rock-solid evidence of poor performance or misconduct.
While the tables may be turning for the fast-food industry, the reality is that at-will employment is still the norm for the vast majority of American workers. It’s a strange reality during a time when job vacancies are higher than they have been in decades and companies are willingly entering bidding wars to secure the talent they need to grow.
However, it wasn’t just the pandemic that led us to this incredibly complex place in hiring history. How employers are treated by employees is quid pro quo of how they treat their employees, and at-will employment treats employees as though they are disposable, or temporary. Therefore, if you want to find and retain talent in this candidate-driven market, you have to commit to candidates and employees—and really mean it.
If NYC can end at-will employment for fast-food employees, what’s the holdup for other employers and industries in the struggle to navigate what has become an employees’ market? It’s simple logic: If you can’t compete with the likes of Google, Microsoft, and the many other tier-one multinationals in terms of salary, why not consider offering the one benefit corporate America hasn’t been able to muster? Security may not be statutory, but it could be a game-changer in the race for talent.
What Does Job Security Look Like?
It looks like a future-proofed career based on a commitment to transparency around benefits and communication and an investment in continual upskilling.
Think about it: There will inevitably be another recession at some point, which will lead to more layoffs. Employees over 30 and especially those over 45 will be thinking about this and worried about the impact. If you can offer some long-term job security, you may be able to really differentiate yourself in today’s crowded talent acquisition landscape.
This means being clear about what the course of action will be should a recession hit, whether benefits will continue, and whether employees will have the safety of a notice period. It also means a contractual commitment to these practices.
It might also mean getting a lot more specific in terms of the longevity and fine print surrounding benefits. Benefits like health insurance should be communicated clearly. For example, with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), if you’re laid off, the continuation of health insurance is statutory, but employees have to pay for the entire premium rather than their employers. This causes huge issues for people who have lost their jobs. Setting firm policies on these types of issues in employment contracts could be make-or-break differentiators for certain employees at certain life stages, and it’s up to companies to recognize this.
Beyond this, taking commitment a step further and offering employees training opportunities that show long-term commitment could also be a big differentiator.
The Bottom Line
The skills needed 10 years ago are now completely irrelevant, and employees know this. The opportunity to future-proof careers while working for a company is hugely valuable, and employers’ commitment to ongoing upskilling and reskilling could be what swings it for a given employee. It’s a win-win for everyone: Companies get the competitive-edge benefit of improved employee performance, and employees get the training they need to stay relevant.
Future-proofing can take many forms and has the potential for a lot of upsides. At the end of the day, the end of at-will employment in the United States is currently only affecting one part of one industry in one city in one state, but the logic in uptake and the opportunities up for grabs are clear. So, employers, what are you waiting for?
Paul Newnes is the Director of Innovation at Talent Works.