As I mentioned in the last post, I contacted a close friend who happens to be an attorney specializing in labor law.  She told me that in a state that has “Employment at Will,” an employee can be terminated for any reason.  I was troubled by the fact that she said it was different for most union members and most public employees. Typically Union employees and public workers operate under employment contracts which do not allow termination at will.

Most states recognize what is called the Public Policy Doctrine when applying the Employment at Will laws.  In the interpretation of the law, a judge is asked to refer to the body of principals that underpins the legal system (the public policy).  To me, that would be the Constitution and its Amendments.  It seems to me that the chilling effect on the First Amendment of an act  (like what appears to have been taken by OnPoint Credit Union in firing an employee because of what she read in a public meeting) would qualify as reason to consider ruling against “employment at will” protection for OnPoint.

It also could be the case that since Ms. vanBlaricom is over 40 years of age, that she might have been dismissed for her age.  Could OnPoint have chosen to use the union-member complaints as an excuse to rid itself of the cost of an older employee so they could hire a younger replacement?  Employees over age 40 are a protected class under the law, like many minorities.  It would be interesting to learn how old the average Branch Manager is at OnPoint.

If I were Ms. vanBlaricom, I would be exploring both of these possibilities: Age Discrimination and the Public Policy Doctrine.

There is another possibility.  Ms. van Blaricom could have been a very bad employee and was due to be fired.  If that is the case, OnPoint is guilty only of bad timing and very bad PR work.  Until OnPoint says something it will be hard to know if they are the employer-from-hell or an employer who has done nothing wrong.*  I hope that Lars Larson or some other talk-show host can get OnPoint to respond to this situation.

It is not easy for me to make an argument against OnPoint’s right to fire at will.  As an employer I feel I should have the right to fire an employee if it fits the needs of the company.  It is sometimes the case where in order to prosper, a business must consider the vast majority of the other employees rather than the special case of the one.  I remember a case in San Francisco where a company chose to keep an alcoholic in spite of his failing to perform on many opportunities the company had offered him to help control his alcoholism.  When he drank his lunch one day and in a drunken stupor drove his company delivery truck over a child severely injuring him, the company was sued literally out of existence.  A few hundred people lost their jobs because the company had not fired one employee that it knew should have been fired.

I still find it hard to believe that the Management of OnPoint chose to fire a good employee to make a few (union-member) members feel good about the power they have as a union.   It appears* that they answer union-member complaints by firing a Branch Manager, but, they answer those who complain about the firing by sending out a form letter? (I have now had confirmation from others that they received the same form letter that I did).  If complaints by members was not the reason for the fiing, I would think OnPoint would want to make that clear to the public rather than issue a simple form letter that says, “…OnPoint cannot and does not discuss individual employment issues…” I wonder if any Union Members are upset about the possibility that someone was unfairly fired because of union actions.  Aren’t unions all about “fairness?”

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