Big issues in the US workplace: Changes in terms of contract employment

A major complaint in the US workforce relates to changes in terms of contract employment. In these cases, employees are offered either unacceptable, or unworkable, terms. In some instances, parents have been disadvantaged by terms which preclude their attendance at work because of child care obligations. They can either work, or look after their kids, as they're morally and legally required to do.

In other cases, previous arrangements which were the only feasible working hours for employees are replaced by unworkable new contract conditions. The general impression of US employees is that these conditions are deliberately created by employers seeking to shed staff through voluntary resignations, to avoid payment of unemployment insurance.

Note: Readers are strongly advised to seek legal help in dealing with their own situations in these cases. This article isn't intended to be legal advice, and relates solely to employment law issues raised by these cases. Some points are legal principles, and some are statutory. We hope this article will help clarify these issues for employees and employers.

There's a legal principle which is called 'the reasonable man.' In effect, it means defining a reasonable course of action, or view of a case. In the case of these contract situations, one interpretation of the situation whereby employees are being compelled to do things which are not in their interests can be seen as unreasonable. A clear example of an unreasonable demand would be if other parties to a contract know that employees are unable to do what they're being asked to do, under these contracts.

Under law of contract, a binding contract cannot be entered into under any form of coercion. The overwhelming impression from employees in this situation is that they're being coerced. That, if proven, would invalidate any such contracts.

Many employees have been told that if they fail to sign the new contracts, they will be considered to have 'voluntarily resigned.' There are major flaws in this approach. A person cannot be 'deemed' to have voluntarily resigned. A reasonable interpretation of voluntary resignation involves a decision based on freewill, and is not based on the employer's view of the issues.

A very serious point: this methodology, if intended to circumvent the requirements for payment of unemployment insurance, is possibly breaking the law. It misrepresents the terms of a person's leaving the workplace. If a court held that the employer had deliberately misrepresented the nature of termination of employment, it could mean that the employer had willfully attempted to evade the requirements of relevant federal and state laws.

There's a major misconception in the process of demanding employees sign new contracts, and their supposed 'voluntary resignation' if they don't. Employees under existing contracts are bound by the terms of those contracts, and their termination conditions are based on those contracts. So the entire process of changing contract terms, as represented by employers using this method, is basically misleading, if not actually deceptive.