Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Sam Estreicher and I have just had our article, Comparative Wrongful Dismissal Law: Reassessing American Exceptionalism, published in the North Carolina Law Review. People can (and already have) take issue with our argument that the U.S. approach to unjust dismissal may not, in practice, be as far apart from other countries' as many have assumed. We obviously encourage such comments and look forward to further discussion.
However, I wanted to mention what I believe to be an equally important aspect of the article. As you'll notice if you download it, it's immense and very heavily footnoted. Sam & I worked hard to give as accurate a picture of we could of the studied countries' unjust dismissal laws--both on the books and as they function on the ground. For instance, where available, we provide data on average damage awards and convert those awards to current U.S. Dollars. We also explore various aspects of termination, including rules on unjust dimissals, notice, severance payments, economic dismissals, and unemployment benefits. One of the reasons that we wrote this article was that the many years of wishing that someone else would write it didn't seem to be working. So our hope is that it will serve as a useful research tool for others. While I'm at it, I should give another thanks to the research assistants and law review editors who provided invaluable help with this article. Maybe some day the law review students will stop glaring at me for subjecting them to all the foreign cite checking they had to endure.
Commentators have long debated the merits of the United States’ “at-will” rule, which allows employers and employees to end the employment relationship without cause or notice, absent a constitutional, statutory, or public policy exception. One premise for both proponents and opponents of at-will employment is to stress the uniqueness of this default among other developed countries, which generally require “cause” for most dismissals.
Although other countries’ cause regimes differ significantly from the United States on paper, this Article addresses whether those differences in normative law also reflect differences in employees’ protection against wrongful termination in reality. The existing literature on dismissal law stops at a comparison of countries’ normative laws as they appear on the books. In comprehensively examining the dismissal regimes of numerous countries, this Article goes beyond the text of the relevant statues and cases by using information from foreign employment law practitioners and available data—particularly claimants’ success rates and average remedies—in an attempt to observe how the laws actually operate. We find that, even on paper, the cause protection of the surveyed countries is far less robust than typically described. Moreover, the actual practice in these countries shows that challenges to dismissal can be difficult to pursue and generally result in modest remedies by United States standards. This suggests that the United States, with its at-will default and broader remedies, is actually part of a relatively narrow continuum of employment laws found in advanced countries.
This Article hopes to spur more in-depth descriptive work on the employment laws of other countries and to broaden the terms of the debate over the relative merits of the United States employment dismissal system and the dismissal systems of cause regimes.