Cancel Culture Blames At-Will Employment

When it first came on my radar, it was via a twit by Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern.

It’s amazing that passionate foes of “cancel culture” who don’t want people to get fired for stupid or arbitrary reasons have managed to conceal their deep opposition to at-will employment for so long. Welcome to the fight for just cause employment protections, everybody!

It struck me as a non-sequitur, the usual snark intended to shift focus away from the vicious mob they adore to the cause they despise. I wouldn’t have used the word “amazing,” but “incredible,” as it’s not believable that anyone would so flagrantly conflate cause and effect for their own purposes and expect anyone outside of their echo chamber not to see the irrationality.

Then again, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Judd Legum’s “cancel culture doesn’t exist” claim of the day before. So in the scheme of mob apologists, Stern wasn’t at the bottom.

Had the idea ended with Stern’s twit, it would have been unworthy of any serious thought. After all, mob proponents regularly spew irrational arguments in support of their irrational (and abhorrent) causes, and when they get the chance to double down on their causes via imaginary connections, they seize it. Making sense is not a requirement.

But it wasn’t long afterward that Zaid Jilani, at Yascha Mounk’s new site, Persuasion, raised a similar argument, and Jilani is a serious thinker.

The prevalence of at-will employment makes it easier for employers to engage in knee-jerk reactions to short-lived social media controversies. For instance, a Hispanic electrician working for the San Diego Gas and Electric company was fired for cracking his knuckles in a photograph because a social media mob believed that he was flashing a white power sign. The man who took the picture has since admitted that he probably misinterpreted the interaction, and thousands of people have now signed a petition, asking the electrician’s former employer to reverse the mistake. But since the employee has already lost his job, it will be hard for him to obtain justice. As in many other cases, both parties would have been better off if the law had required the company to afford due process to an accused worker before deciding whether or not to fire him.

In the example given, it’s likely true that had the employer not been allowed to knee-jerk fire the guy because social media blew up on him, wrongly, for a few days, his job would have been saved. But this is one example, and while it would have helped in this instance, it wouldn’t have helped for those whose canceling didn’t involve an employer, per se, where the social media outrage didn’t flip on itself a few days later when it was realized the mob blew it, or take into account the implications for the employer’s ability to run its business having nothing to do with a knee-jerk reactions to social media.

The employer is still an employer with all its other at-will employees even when there’s no social media mob demanding an employee, branded a social media pariah, be burned at the stake. Whether you’re for or against at-will employment otherwise is not the issue here; the only question is whether eliminating at-will employment is the solution to the ravages of cancel culture.

There is a better alternative: Contracts negotiated by labor unions often provide so-called “just cause” protections for employees. The tests of just cause typically include questions such as whether the employee was forewarned of the consequences of his or her actions, whether the rules were applied evenly, and whether there was an objective investigation into the employee’s conduct. In other words, it forces employers to conduct a fair process before firing their employees, which gives the accused a real chance to defend themselves. If we really care about free speech and due process, these protections should be available to every American.

There are, of course, a plethora of other considerations involved in the government imposing “just cause” dismissal on private businesses. In the instance of cancel culture, it would provide the employer with a plausible excuse, “Sure, we would fire the person deemed a racist on twitter, but the law won’t allow us to do it.” This, the logic goes, would protect the employer from the mob for “protecting” its employee, whom the mob deems racist and deserving of utter destruction.

But that’s the connection missing here. The employer isn’t the problem at all, but it’s the secondary victim of the mob. The mob will take out its fury on the employer for not imposing the mob’s will by firing whomever it decides is a social pariah and deserve to be fired. And the employer is constrained to make a marketing decision, does it tell the mob to get lost or bend to its will to avoid the secondary effect of harboring a racist, and thus being complicit in whatever evil the mob has determined must be eradicated.

In labor law, secondary boycotts are unlawful. You can’t attack a business that does business with the target of your fury to force it to pressure the target to acquiesce. It’s not because it’s ineffective, but because it’s too effective, and the secondary business has neither done anything wrong nor has the power (or duty) to address the issue. It’s just a collateral victim, subject to ruin for the cause. It’s a bridge too far.

What the mob is doing here is a secondary boycott on the employer for the employee’s assumed evil, even if the evil has nothing to do with the job or the employer. They will destroy the business’ reputation not for anything the business has affirmatively done, but for what it has failed to do, acquiesce to the will of the mob by punishing the mob’s target.

At-will employment is, in those instances where it applies, a potential band-aid on the problem, but it shifts the blame from the cause of the problem, the mob and its demands to cancel, to a symptom, the employer who will throw the employee overboard to save itself from sinking.

Eliminating at-will employment implicates a great many collateral employment issues, fixes nothing with the root problem of cancel culture and, as band-aids go, is unlikely to stop the blood from gushing. It might help by providing the employer with a plausible excuse, but the loss of a job is only one of many life-destroying weapons of the mob. The mob won’t rest until it has destroyed its victim, one way or another.

14 thoughts on “Cancel Culture Blames At-Will Employment

  1. KP

    “The mob won’t rest ‘.. until the employers stand up and say “I don’t give a flying fk about what you think, we make great products at a great price and that’s what is important. If you don’t like it, buy your Che T-shirt somewhere else” or words along those lines. Once enough people stand up and say “I don’t care, your opinion doesn’t count” it will all collapse.

    I can’t believe anyone takes it seriously, its such a shallow culture.

    1. Hunting Guy

      Larry Correia is in the process of building a mansion with a personal 1000 yard rifle range because he tells the woke to FOAD.

      Snowflakes have tried to get his books canceled but he just keeps writing and selling books about guns and strong women that can use them. Plus he is a straight male Mormon Hispanic.

      His last several advances have earned out on the advance copy sales.

      So it is quite possible to tell the mob to fuck off and do well. You just have to be willing to stand up to them. Like all bullies they fold and look for easier targets.

      1. SHG Post author

        He might not be the norm, so what works for him might not work for others. And others might not be as interested in testing the impact.

  2. Nyx

    Cancel culture isn’t real, but also they deserved it and it’s good that they got fired, but also it’s the government’s fault for not stopping me.

  3. B. McLeod

    It is actually possible to leverage the competing mobs for profit, ala “Fistful of Dollars.” It is a matter of finding some inconsequential job from which to be fired for social media posts, then setting up a GoFundMe page so your “allies” can send you their money to right the terrible wrong you have suffered.

  4. grberry

    Is this an attempt to be a mob apologist, or an attempt to push his personal hobbyhorses of changed labor law or unionization?

    If attempting to be a mob apologist, he failed badly by saying that just cause employment protections would be protection from mob cancellation. That can only be so because mob cancellation is an injustice.

    So why not just say that mob cancellations are injustice? Is he afraid of being mob cancelled?

  5. Jake

    The targets of your derision are trying to solve one problem (people getting fired because of cancel culture) while you’re trying to solve another (cancel culture). These problems are interrelated but not the same.

  6. Rengit

    Yeah, I don’t think ending at-will employment is going to be nearly the salve people like Stern and Zaid Jilani think it is. They have employment tribunals in the United Kingdom, and there was a big case where an employment tribunal decided, at root, that a woman who posted about her belief that “woman” is defined by biological sex rather than gender identity could still be fired for espousing that belief because it wasn’t a justifiable belief.

    And being a member of a union barely helped anyone in the 1950s who was a small-c communist or socialist and went around broadcasting it; part (but certainly not all) of why unions declined so much after the 60s is that people increasingly developed the impression that unions were protecting employees who didn’t deserve to be protected, mostly because of work habits but also because of social, moral, or political views. Just watch when the IBEW drops a member with a bumper sticker espousing a belief in the traditional definition of “marriage” after the cancel people call up the utility company he works for and finds they have a CBA with the local IBEW chapter.

    The culture right now is very much the opposite of “live and let live”, so if twitter mobbers, activists, and journalists want to get you, they’ll throw everything they have to get you. You really think they’ll say, “Oh, he’s in a union” and back off?

  7. Julia

    A big utility company (San Diego Gas and Electric) isn’t a coffee shop, I don’t believe it is particularly vulnerable to the mob. Electricity is a necessity and households switch to competitors for better prices and services, not because they got upset on Twitter. And how are those who don’t live in San Diego even going to boycott it? But the business may start losing its employees to competitors, at-will employment is a two-way street.

  8. Dan J

    You know who solved the whole “we don’t want to be fired for poor conduct/any reason at all” problem? The police. How well is that working for people like Mark Joseph Stern?


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