Louisiana is an at-will employment state.
At-will employment means an employee can be fired for any reason unless the employee has a contract for a specific length of time or is a union member with a collective-bargaining agreement. However, the employee cannot be fired for an action protected by state or federal law.
Justin Dewitt is a surveyor by trade and was a candidate for Louisiana’s 6th District congressional seat in 2018. Dewitt worked for the same company since 2014 and had vacation time coming to him that he took to coincide with his campaigning.
Thirty-six hours after Dewitt returned from his vacation, he was terminated from his job. The company told him it was downsizing, and by Louisiana law, the company didn’t even need to give him that flimsy reason; the company didn’t have to give him any reason, just, "you’re fired.”
One could say Dewitt jumped into the world of dog-eat-dog, back-stabbing Louisiana politics and got what was coming to him, and one might have a point.
What should he have done? Go ask the boss for permission to seek political office?
Louisiana’s at-will employment law is not just about Justin Dewitt. It’s also about hundreds of thousands of people who are at-will employees in the state, working without a contract or a union collective-bargaining agreement.
Forget about Justin Dewitt taking vacation time to run for political office. It could have been another employee with years more seniority, a loyal company person who was sick or taking care of a sick parent or grandparent. If the company didn’t agree with what the employee was doing, the employee could be let go without any reason under Louisiana’s at-will employment law. All the good will and seniority amounts to bupkis.
The employer has the employee’s entire life and livelihood in the employer’s hands, and in many cases cowboy boots on the employee’s throat.
As it is written, the only thing Louisiana’s at-will employment law does is provide cover for the company without any time limit.
This law is extremely unfair to an employee working for a company that does a match on the employee’s 401(k) after a certain length of time with the company.
A good company that evaluates job performance and employees should know within a fair time frame if a new employee is going to fit in with the company.
Short of repealing the law, at some point during an employee’s tenure at a company, the law needs to sunset, and the employer needs to show cause to fire an employee.
You can bet Justin Dewitt is not the only employee who got a raw deal from Louisiana’s at-will employment law.
Michael D. Day
union pipe fitter