Flash Fiction: At-Will, For Cause & Perpetual? by LJ Frank

Justice is Blind

The storm moved in quickly over the college town as I ran into an old craftsman style bookshop across the street from the main campus. That’s when it happened. And until today the memory was lost in an unnumbered nerve cell in my brain. It was when Tilly and I ran into to each other. It started an irretrievable series of events in my life. Tilly was striking, well read and also my supervisor. I recall her looking over at me as I held a book in my hand while standing next to a ceiling high book range.   

“It’s been a while since we met in private,” I observed, 

“Yes, it has been Edmund. Things have come up unexpectedly. You seemed to be enjoying yourself.”

“Except my position is at-will.”

“I know. I recall reading that we are the only country in which the concept of at-will employment is utilized.”

“I’ve been there before. I don’t like being at-will. It’s dogma under the guise of law that suggests you don’t exist unless your employer says you exist.”

“But you can resign without reason.”

“I’m not impressed. We tailor the matter of control over another’s existence by placing a legal mask on its face and hiding the real face underneath by saying the employee can also quit without reason or cause…unless the employer suspects the employee might quit and then lets her or him go so as to have the upper hand. Strength over weakness. My experience.”

“Sorry. It’s doctrine, Edmund. It was literally invented by a man named Horace C. Wood in 1877 in a legal treatise titled, Master and Servant.”

“His treatise is mumbo jumbo. His legal reasoning is incoherent. The fact that an employee can quit without cause is a ruse.”

“I know it’s distasteful and unfair.  But then when did fairness figure into  employment?”

“Tilly, it gives power to the employer over the existence of another human being and claims it’s the law when in fact it is unethical and amoral. Much of the rest of the civilized world requires cause among other things.” 

Tilly wiped the perspiration from her forehead. “Well you just know that judges are cowards when confronting the at-will issue. Then there’s the problem of deep pockets. Lobbyists, politicians and attorneys.” 

“You’re aware that Wood’s citations to support the rule is riddled with errors.”

“I know. The four citations he noted are a legal embarrassment and highly questionable in supporting his rule. It really came down to his unsubstantiated opinion, which in turn employers gobbled up. You and I know It’s autocratic and fits within the existing political system today. The issues are complicated. And there are the courts and legislatures.”

“People’s lives…power and money.”

“You’re correct. And that’s what makes this chance meeting difficult and why I feel so bad about letting you go,” she said with heavy sigh.

My face felt flush….”What?”

She gently placed her hand on my mouth. “Oh darling, I’m so sorry, I still want to continue seeing you discreetly on the side…if that’s okay with you. We do have so much in common…and our families and colleagues don’t need to know.”

  “Oh? What about…?

“Him? He spends most of his time in his judicial robes even when he’s not in a courtroom…he parades around in his robe. He has this thing about judicial robes and uttering Latin phrases. It’s evolved into a fetish.”

“Hah! I must admit…”

“There’s no reason to admit anything at this moment,” she said kissing my cheek and whispering, ”except to say I want you but on different terms and in a different light.”

“You mean not under fluorescent lights?”  

“Don’t be facetious. I’ll pay you to be my private mister. I’m getting a bonus for cutting back several employees. You’re not the only one.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“We don’t need to involve Him. Besides I have a plan.”

“A plan?”

“I figured out a way you don’t have to pay off your student loans.”

“We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.”

“Keep working on different masters and doctorate degrees and borrow even more money. I’ll sign off the need for you to continue your education. It will be perpetual.”

“Would it help being nervous about this idea?”

“No. You see you keep borrowing and going to school and eventually you will die in the process of learning.”

“How noble!”

“Exactly. Once your dead your debts will be forgiven.”

“Something is missing.”

“It won’t be me.”