Job Security in a Right-To-Work State

While having breakfast in a restaurant, I eavesdropped as a loyal employee lost his job. I won’t mention the town, as that scene happens in any town, too often nowadays.  Probably not over a rooty-tooty pancake ‘n’ ham, as it happened this morning, but the instant it became clear what was happening, I understood why this was being done over breakfast: A scene in the office avoided, questions averted, no work disrupted, and breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. It wouldn’t even cost the company a lot to get rid of the employee.

This is a right-to-work state, there are 27 of those in the U.S. The name comes from the fact that if you work at ABC company and the company forms a union, you cannot be fired. That’s what right-to-work means. It also means you are an employee at will. You can be fired for any reason or no reason. And that was exactly what was happening in the next booth.

While I was eavesdropping on this life-shattering conversation, it became obvious that the boss had done this more than once. He kept repeating the same phrases.

“You’ll get over this, it’s not the end of your life.”
“You’ll find another job quickly.”
“You’ll look back on this and laugh.”
No one was laughing at the time, and the employee was in shock. He kept citing statistics of the fine work he had done, the deadlines he had met, the extra work he had taken on and completed successfully.

It didn’t matter. Nothing he could say made a difference. The decision to have him gone was made before he arrived to meet his boss for breakfast. I wondered where he would go for the rest of the day, how he would tell his family.

Listening in, I remembered one of my clients telling me that she was indispensable. I smiled as I listened to the certainty, and two months later, I nodded my head as she cried, “They can’t do this to me. I’m the only ones who know how to run the program.” And yet, the program ran, and she was out on her ear, out of a job.

It can happen to you. Somewhere, someone reading this and smiling. Secure. You work hard. You are really indispensable. You have traded family life and balance for the job security. You gave up nights with your kids to cement security with your company. You are fooling yourself.

That’s what the guy at breakfast thought. That’s what I thought right before I was laid off at my last corporate job.

Everyone is replaceable. The company that demands your time and your life and your loyalty does not return that loyalty. They pay you and that, in their minds, is all they owe you. America is all about money and dedication and being “passionate” about your career, but less so about the other side of the coin.

I wish our corporate culture were a bit more passionate about loyalty, and caring and being reasonable. So, while you are reading this, what would you do if your job disappeared today?

If you are a perfectionist, this is particularly for you. . .perfectionism is about control, and you are far less in control that you think.

If you don’t have a plan about what to do if you are dumped, now might be a good time to think about it. How much of a financial cushion do you have? How much would you need if it took you six months to find a job? What jobs other than the one you are doing now are you qualified for? What wold it take to make you competitive in your field? When was the last time you updated your resume?

Take a look at your co-workers today. One of them will be gone in three months.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She won’t be dumped from her job because she owns the company. But she keeps changing her goals. See what she does at

21 thoughts on “Job Security in a Right-To-Work State

  1. I don’t get this. Is it really true you can just fire someone on the spot over there in the States without giving notice? In most contracts over here there is a period of notice for both parties. If I want to quit my job I must do so two months in advance and if my employer wants to sack me so must he. It’s a different matter if someone is completely disfunctional, but even then you need a really really good reason. I think there’s even a law about this.

    I also don’t understand this whole firing-someone-over-breakfast- in-a-public- place thing, that’s just cruel. Why not just make a normal appointment in your office instead of making people feel safe and than banging them over the head with such a message? Give them some privacy for god’s sake! How horrible it must be to hear such a thing in a place where other people can overhear everything (as is proven by this blog post 😉 ).

    • Yes, in the 27 right-to-work states, a boss can fire you for “any reason or no reason” –that’s what it says in your employment contract if you are an “employee at will.” There are a few big exceptions–age, religion, race–but the employee would have to prove that as the reason, and employers are clever and leave no written trace of reasons. The employee may also quit without warning, but that behavior has longer echoes. I could fill books with the horror stories of people being fired and laid off (when the company has too many workers and not enough work.) People are generally fired Fridays right before 5 p.m. Many workers who get laid off are called into a conference room, let go as a group and are not allowed to return to their offices for fear they will call clients or contaminate the mood of their fellow workers. Of course, there are kinder employers, and better ones, but the majority of companies show little loyalty.

      • Thanks for the info.

        Over here employers sometimes complain about how hard it is to actually fire someone, because you need a really good reason, and they would like the law changed to how it is in your country. I hope it never comes to that.

        This does noet mean by the way that nobody ever gets fired over here or that there are no group lay offs. But I think in comparison those people are taken care of better, even if they end up without work, which is hard enough as it is.

        • It can be dreadful here. I live in a right to work state, and work with the unemployed, and their stories are heartbreaking. These are not lazy, careless people. They have aspirations, good work ethic and families for whom they were working hard. Then one day, they were out on the street. We give them personality inventories, and the vast majority of the people in my class rank as steady, conscientious people, not as dominant or influencers. It’s easy to fire them, they won’t make a fuss.

  2. I read this with a grin on my face. I am retired(my choice) almost a year now. I was one of those who pulled my co.’s butt out of the toilet more than several times, worked lots of unthankful overtime, etc. Was I promoted? No. Did I receive bonuses? No. Thanked, even? Seldom. I left and have not looked back nor have they called.Indispensable? Not on your life! Well written and SO timely!

  3. I think I sense what Pete is saying but I cannot rephrase it (and certainly not in English). To somehow explain it I end up with a ” helicopterview with the subconsious cracked wide open” – sort of how mass psychosis can find it’s origin.
    Maybe as humans we are just not entitled to anything.

  4. At my company 7,000 people will lose their jobs by the end of this year, and if rumors are true another 23,000 after that. Corporations are in many ways treated legally as if they’re people, but the word for a person who acts like a corporation acts is “sociopath”. Of course, the people who make the sociopathic decisions are also trapped; they make decisions “on behalf of” somebody else (might be the board, might be the stockholders, might be the analysts, etc).

    This is an interesting situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Very few people seem to be particularly happy about it, but the values we thought were good and even at the bottom of it all “sensible” seem to be, in the aggregate, somehow counterproductive to us as a species.

    If you study ants (software people love to think about ants; I have proof!) it’s evident that there’s such a thing as “colony behavior”. Drives and motivations that can’t conceivably be attributed to any single ant (very little can be attributed to an ant) and yet somehow collective behavior arises.

    I’ve read a few speculative pieces suggesting that large organized groups of individual humans — corporations, for example — can exhibit the same sort of effects. I’ve had to fire people, and it’s a very, very unpleasant thing to do.

    I say I “had to” — but that’s not, strictly speaking, true, at least not for one individual person (me in that case). Yet for some reason I absolutely believed I had no choice. Maybe I would have been fired if I hadn’t done it, but maybe not. Maybe somebody else would have done the same thing, but maybe not. I didn’t even like those jobs (and left soon enough). I don’t think I was afraid of being fired. I felt I “had to do it” but I really can’t put my finger on exactly where that feeling came from. Isn’t that interesting.

    For years I’ve had the growing sense that there’s something going on here that I (and I think most people) have not figured out how to “see”, maybe because it’s something too big or subtle or amorphous.

    • If you read a little Eckhardt Tolle, you’ll discover that that group behavior extends to big groups of people all over the world. It breeds on competition and lives in fear. You are seeing some of that now.

      • Yeah I’ve seen some of that field. It’s not quite what I mean. It’s elusive and I can’t always get my head completely around it. Reminds me of math; I always ran into a ragged edge beyond which my ability to fully grasp it got more and more intermittent. Long division, for example.

  5. Things became crytal clear to me many years ago, while I was at home with my first child. Another mom and I were talking. I asked her why she had not returned to work.
    She looked me dead in the eye, saying, “I could drop dead at work and they’d find a replacement for me tomorrow, but I am the only Mom my kids have”. I learned everything I wanted to know.

    • Kids need their moms. Moms often need jobs. Great if it works out to the satisfaction of all. I wish it worked better all the way around–I had to work when my son was little. I remember being tired a lot. thank goodness he turned out all right.

  6. I was fired at lunch one time, went back to the office and they had gone through all my stuff and let me leave with what was “mine”. But gave me two months severance…The fun part was the call from the lawyer later on asking questions for the suit from the shareholders over company mismanagement. And my boss had an aneurysm about a month after I was fired. Apparently I have very good karma that people really shouldn’t mess with. ;^)

  7. Well said, Quinn. We all need a back-up plan and should not assume continued employment. I agree with the concept of employment at will, it works both ways.

  8. my father, bless his soul, told me at age 18: always remember, companies have no soul to save and no —- to kick. I have neve felt myself to be indispensible, not even after 52 years of marriage, and my husband can only boil water!!

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