This week Michigan passes legislation officially making it a “Right-To-Work” state. Often confused with “at-will” employment, the ambiguous term actually refers to laws that prohibit Employers or Unions from requiring or banning Union membership or dues as a condition of employment. Practically stated, right-to-work laws essentially limit a Union’s ability to require membership, which potentially weakens a union’s leverage with the employer. From the employer’s perspective, right-to-work laws protect an employee from being compelled into union membership just to maintain their job. Virginia has actually been a right-to-work state since Virginia Code Sect. 40.1-58 was first enacted in 1947. The three basic provisions are as follows:
Employers not to require employees to become or remain members of union. No person shall be required by an employer to become or remain a member of any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment by such employer.
Employers not to require abstention from membership in union. No person shall be required by an employer to abstain or refrain from membership in any labor union or labor organization as a condition of employment or continuation of employment.
Employer not to require payment of union dues, etc. No employer shall require any person, as a condition of employment or continuation of employment, to pay any dues, fees or other charges of any kind to any labor union or labor organization.
The term “at-will” employment refers to a common law standard whereby, absent an express contract for term, the default employment relationship is deemed to exist at the will of the parties – meaning that either the employer or employee is free to terminate the employment relationship at any-time, with or without cause. While employees still may be protected from termination by various discrimination, disability, medical-leave, retaliation or whistle-blowers laws, there is no baseline requirement that an employer prove cause to terminate an employee in the absence of other illegal motivations.