I happened upon a news article regarding HP being upset with GM for hiring away a good number of its Austin staff to populate GM’s new IT/Development shop being set up in Austin.
Now Texas is, like many states, an ‘at will’ employment state. In general this situation favors employers, who require no reason whatsoever to terminate an employee’s tenure. This has the major advantage in development work that, while someone may be hired on a W2 employee ‘contract’ or simply hired as a permanent employee to work on a specific project, if that project is canceled or postponed due to a decision that the budget is better spent on another project, rather than considering training the employee on any different and necessary skills for the other project, the employee is simply terminated in favor of a new employee who has already mastered the requisite skills. This practice even extends, in many cases, to employers hiring employees as ‘permanent’ employees, knowing in advance they only really want the employee for the length of a specific project, and fully intend to let them go immediately upon completion of the project. The reason for doing this, of course, is that a potential employee who believes the role to be permanent is liable to accept a lower absolute wage than either a W2 contractor or a 1099 self-employed contractor who goes in knowing the role will only last a specified period.
I’m not saying or insinuating that HP themselves is generally guilty of these kinds of practices. In fact, from what I understand HP is exceptional as far as viewing employees as a long term, career commitment that will necessarily include investing in skills upgrades etc. for its employees. However, as an employer in an ‘at will’ employment state, usually euphemistically referred to as a ‘right to work’ state (‘right to get fired’ would be in general more accurate), HP has to realize that employees have the same right to terminate employment for any reason as the employer does. If they’re not happy with this arrangement, they have the option of lobbying for a change in the law, realizing of course that this will make terminating employment as difficult as it can be in many parts of Europe or Canada.
Having been told by American HR people how ‘shocked’ they are by said difficulties in those countries, it would involve a radical change in how American companies expect to do business. Unless and until that change happens, employers cannot have it both ways, having the right to fire at will but not allowing employees the right to leave at will, including leaving to go to an employer who is willing to give the employee a better deal, either in pay, benefits, or other means.
Usually ‘at will’ employment favors employers far more than employees. The exception is usually in a tough hiring market, where jobs in a given field are more plentiful than employees with the requisite skills to fill them. Even in this (generally rare) situation, the problem for employers has more to do with an unwillingness to cover the costs of training employees with the aptitude but not the direct experience the employer is looking for.
While I don’t particularly wish this kind of situation on an employer that generally does not engage in the types of practices that have made company loyalty a bad joke for employees, since it is so rarely returned in any way by employers. I have to admit it’s somewhat satisfying that en employer of any kind is being bitten by a law intended, and for the most part successfully so, at destroying the balance of power between employer and employee in favor of a one sided power situation where employers generally hold such a massive share of the power in the relationship that employees can be treated as interchangeable ‘resources’. Note that a resource is something owned, that can be exchanged at the employer’s will. Being owned is only euphemistically even referred to as employment. The more accurate term is, of course, slavery.
Seeing people who in general are treated no differently than slaves in many historical cultures (while better than slaves were treated in the U.S., the U.S. had an unusually dire form of slavery to begin with) take advantage of their ‘owners’ via the very law that most allows employers to treat them as such is rather refreshing, although I don’t expect it to happen often.