Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 115, Issue 2, pp 311-325

First online:

Distributive Justice, Employment-at-Will and Just-Cause Dismissal

  • Mark HarcourtAffiliated withDepartment of Strategy and Human Resource Management, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato
  • , Maureen HannayAffiliated withHuman Resource Management, Sorrell College of Business, Troy University
  • , Helen LamAffiliated withHuman Resource Management, Centre for Innovative Management, Faculty of Business, Athabasca University Email author 

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Dismissal is a major issue for distributive justice at work, because it normally has a drastic impact on an employee’s livelihood, self-esteem and future career. This article examines distributive justice under the US’s employment-at-will (EAW) system and New Zealand’s just-cause dismissal system, focusing on the three main categories of dismissal, namely misconduct, poor performance and redundancy. Under EAW, employees have limited protection from dismissal and remedies are restricted to just a few so-called exceptions. Comparatively, New Zealand’s just-cause system delivers much more just outcomes, both in terms of remedies and punishments. Despite a few shortcomings, it should be considered as a reasonable reference for policy changes in the US.


Dismissal Employment-at-will Just-cause Distributive justice