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Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Good Wife and At-Will Employment

A couple of weeks ago, The Good Wife dealt with at-will employment in an episode called The Penalty Box. In that episode, Cary Agos, the former colleague of our heroine Alicia, who joined the prosecutor’s office in a huff a few years ago, decided to interview at Alicia’s firm. The prosecutor’s political consultant saw him and ratted him out. 

Cary had pretty much decided to stay at the State’s Attorney’s office, but his boss confronted him and asked if he’d been interviewing. When he admitted it, his boss fired him. Fortunately for Cary, he had an offer from Alicia’s firm, so he got a soft landing.

But this situation comes up all the time in real life. In all but one state, Montana, employees can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. That means you can be fired for looking at other job opportunities. I see people who had potential employers call current employers for a reference. They don’t get the job and they’re fired. Can they do anything? Probably not. They’re out of work and out of luck. Maybe the can sue the potential employer for tortious interference, but it will be tough to prove.

I’ve seen people fired for not taking their CVs down from Monster or Career Builder. The employer saw the resume, assumed they were looking, and gave them the ax. 

If you’re writing about your characters’ employment, never forget that they can be fired for any reason, including arbitrary ones. They can be fired because their boss didn’t like their shoes or shirt that day, because the boss was in a bad mood, or because they got caught looking for another job. If you need conflict in your story, look no further than at-will employment.

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