We have all kinds of labor laws allegedly for the purpose of “protecting workers.” And these laws are growing like a cancer, hampering job creation and maintenance as they do. For example, the New Jersey Star-Ledger lauded a state Supreme Court ruling that upheld a man’s lawsuit against his employer for firing him because he was divorced, effectively making it illegal for “a worker [to] be fired or discriminated against because they are separated from or divorcing their spouse.” In Go N.J.: Your creepy boss can't fire you over a divorce, the Star-Ledger writes:
Divorce is bad enough all on its own. But if a creepy boss fires you for it, you ought to have a right to sue his pants off. That right is now affirmed in the Garden State.
Granted, the boss of the Millville Rescue Squad had cause for concern. The plaintiff, Robert Smith, was married to another member of the squad when the marriage hit the skids. Smith, it turns out, had an affair with another co-worker and his wife found out.
But CEO John Redden went overboard. He insisted that Smith find a way to reconcile with his wife to prevent this mess from interfering with their work. Seven months later, Smith told him that the reconciliation was hopeless, and Redden fired him.
The three people involved, it turned out, did not actually do anything that interfered with their work. “[CEO John] Redden, it seems, assumed the worst and fired Smith on the basis of a stereotype,” the Star-Ledger writes. “That amounts to firing Smith for being divorced, and that's a no-no.”
How many people are actually fired for being divorced? On the face of it, this looks like the nanny state running wild. And it is. In the future, some future boss who fears personal conflicts caused by love triangles among his workforce will have to concoct some rationalization for the firing rather than be upfront about it. But these sorts of micro-managing by “big government” requires exactly that kind of dishonesty in order for an employer to do what he has every right to do in the first place—terminate an employee for any reason he chooses. This ruling is what we get once we start down the road of outlawing private discrimination. It starts with legitimate concerns over objectively irrational and immoral discrimination, such as racial discrimination, and inevitably expands to outlaw so much discrimination that we find ourselves increasingly unable to live by our own judgement regarding our private associations.
I’ve written a lot about the unfairness of labor laws, and how it’s none of a legitimate—i.e., rights-protecting—government’s business to interfere in labor management contracts unless fraud or breach-of-contract or contractual mediation and the like is involved. I take seriously the First Amendment, which explicitly and absolutely protects freedom of association within the context of inalienable individual rights. But this case got me thinking: So-called labor laws are bad in another way; they are completely one-sided, violating the principle of equal protection of the law supposedly guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
True, if Smith’s firing went down exactly as described in this editorial, it is unfair. But, here’s my question: If the tables are turned and the worker quits because his boss got a divorce—or, for that matter, over his own divorce—should the boss be able to sue the worker? What if, rather than being fired, Smith quit because of some other employee’s divorce?
Related, an employer can be sued (or worse) if he fires a worker because of gender or race. What if the worker quits because he doesn’t like his new boss’s race or gender?
The problem with all of these so-called “workers rights” laws is that they contain an embedded double-standard. Take minimum wage laws. If an employer hires a worker for less that minimum wage, only the employer gets punished. The worker not only gets off scot-free. Worse, the worker is often rewarded monetarily with back wages and the like, even though he agreed to work for the lower wage; i.e., he is as much of a lawbreaker for accepting the job for an outlawed wage as the employer is for creating it. Same with government-mandated overtime pay rules. Since no worker is ever forced to fill a job position, isn’t the worker equally guilty of breaking the law if a wage law is broken?
The government shouldn’t be involved in dictating terms of agreement between employers and employees. Employers and job-seekers should be free to make their own terms of employment without government interference. And the employer should be able to fire a worker for any reason at any time, and the worker should be able to quit for any reason at any time—consistent with their mutual prior agreement. Yes, either should be able to sue if the other breaches contract. And the government should get involved in cases of fraud. Otherwise, government should keep its aggressive, coercive law-making hands off.
But if the government is going to impose labor laws, shouldn’t these laws at least be enforced impartially and equally? If a minimum wage or anti-discrimination law is violated, shouldn’t all guilty parties be subject to the prescribed penalties? I wonder what would become of all of these labor laws that target only employers if such laws were actually enforced impartially, as in equal protection under the law?
“Greed” is a Two-Way Street