The Elusive Search for Job Security: A Historical Inquiry into Dismissals in the US Workplace


Matthias Beck, PhD
University of York, York, United Kingdom

Series: Economic Issues, Problems and Perspectives, American Political, Economic, and Security Issues
BISAC: BUS037020

For the majority of employees in the US and elsewhere, their job is by far their most important property; with jobs providing their main source of prosperity, social status and individual psychological well-being. While the US political system provides extensive protection to capital, it paradoxically offers only very limited protection to labor. This lack of protection is evidenced, above all, by the fact that the protection afforded to US workers against unfair, capricious or unnecessary dismissals is amongst the weakest of all industrialized nations. The primary agenda of this book is to map out the institutional choices which have prevented the comprehensive, European-style, regulation of dismissal in the United States­and to explore how these choices have been supported, modified and maintained against attempts by US workers to secure greater job security. The book examines the topical issues of dismissal and job security in a roughly chronological analysis which draws on important historical sources. (Imprint: Nova)

Table of Contents

Table of Contents



The Common Law of Employment Termination
The English Law of Employment Termination
The American Rule of Employment At-Will
Critics of At-Will Employment

The Failed Promise of Statutory Protection
The Promised Lands of Protected
Concession Bargaining and Job Security
Unions versus the “Core of Managerial Control”
Preserving Managerial Power

Unjust Dismissal Litigation
The “Erosion” of At-Will Employment
The State and Unjust Dismissal Litigation
Geographic Diffusion and Conceptual Consolidation
Unjust Dismissal Litigation and Job Security

An Excurse on the Economics of Dismissal Restriction


List of Works Cited



“In this elegantly argued book, Matthias Beck has produced a masterful account of how and why successive attempts at strengthening job security for American employees at their place of work have come virtually to nothing. Synthesising brilliantly a mass of historical detail, he shows how powerful institutional and organizational forces have been mobilised to prevent American employees enjoying a level of employment protection that is taken-for-granted in most parts of Europe. As a result, at-will-employment is the Sword of Damocles that continues to hang most American workplaces. Above all, what emerges from this fine book is the perverse irony of the world’s richest country affording its citizens the least job security of any economically advanced nation.” – Professor Paul Teague, Martin Naughton Chair of Management at Queen’s University, Belfast

“In this impressively researched and scholarly book Prof Beck investigates the origins and consequences of limited legal protection offered to American workers … and explores the particular historical reasons for this apparent American exceptionalism. Thoroughly footnoted throughout, the narrative concentrates on the legal aspects of dismissal and the role of the judiciary promoting ‘at will’ firing and plant level bargaining. A detailed array of evidence is fielded to show how attempts to restrict managerial rights were doomed to failure … The book will be of interest to business, legal and economic historians, and policy makers. Above all, it will appeal to those readers who are seeking new insights into the linkages between disorganised labour and the evident competitive advantage of American capitalism before the financial crisis of 2007.” –  Professor Steven Toms, Chair in Accounting at Leeds University Business School, UK and Editor of Business History.

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