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Mary & Little Lamb

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The Little Lamb Company hired Mary as a programmer for a special project. There was a contract for that specific project. But when the project was near completion, the Little Lamb Company was still in need of her services and so she was asked to continue working with the company. There was no mention of any contract made, however, the supervisor of the said company began to work closely with Mary and required her to use company materials and equipment and at the same time asked her to adhere to company work schedules. After two years the company went through financial difficulties and so Mary was asked to leave. But a mere thirty days later the Little Lamb Company acquired a major contract. They hired Mary’s cousin and did not offer May the opportunity to return.


            There is a need to know the release of Mary from her employment was legal under the doctrine of employment-at-will. There are two related questions that needed to be answered first and these are: 1) her status while working at the Company, if she was an independent contractor or an employee; and 2) the nature of the employer-employee relationship, if it underwent change over the course of time.

            Based on the information given, May was a skilled programmer who worked outside the context of regular office hours and direct supervision from the company manger or supervisor. There was a contract that was made for a specific project. It was pointed out that the project was near completion and therefore there was a time element to the work that it was not expected to go on and on forever. This means that Mary knew that after the project was completed, her services was no longer needed and the company had no obligation to retain her services or to make her an employee of Little Lamb Company.

            Nevertheless, when the project was completed the company was still in need of her services and she was asked to continue working as a programmer. However, there were changes in the employer-employee relationship. Her supervisor began to work closely with her in the new project. She was even required to use company materials and equipment and at the same time she was asked to adhere to company work schedules. This simply means that Mary was considered as a valuable asset to the company and she was not working outside the company but within the company’s premises.

            Mary worked there for an additional two years. This suggests that she was working there even after she completed the second project. She is considered as an employee of the company. This brings the discussion to the last question: was Mary’s release legal under the doctrine of employment-at-will?

            Based on the doctrine of at-will-employment Mary’s release from employment was legal. According to experts, “An at-will-employment arrangement is an arrangement in which the employee serves at the unilateral pleasure of the employer” (Reda, Reifler, & Thatcher, 2008). This simply means that the employer can terminate the services of Mary without giving any explanation and there is no legal problem for doing so. This is because there were no written employment agreements, plans, letters, or similar writing that Mary could have used to show that there was a breach of agreement.

            There was a contract made but it can only be understood as contracts that were made for the first and second project. After the completion of these two projects Mary was given another work load but there was no contract concerning her salary and other benefits that she could expect from the company. In this case the employment can only be understood as at-will-employment and the employer has the right to terminate her services without just cause. In many cases the need to reorganize and to reduce the number of employees are valid reasons for the company to release somebody from employment and the courts will judge in their favor.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment

The doctrine of at-will-employment clearly favors the employer. The employer need not prove just cause before terminating the services of Mary. However, there are instances wherein the Little Lamb Company may be found to be in breach of the following: 1) breach of public policy; 2) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and 3) breach of implied contract.

Even though at-will-employment gives the employer the ability to terminate employment at will, Mary can complain against unlawful termination if Mary was dismissed because she was asked to commit a crime, released from employment because she was a whistleblower against the illegal activities of the employer, dismissed because she served on a jury against the employer’s wishes or dismissed because she exercised her legal right – this is considered a breach in public policy. Based on the information given Mary was not released because she was a whistleblower or testified against the company. Her employment was terminated because the company went through a financial difficulty.

There could be a breach in implied contract of good faith and fair dealing considering that Mary worked so hard for the company. This was evidenced by the fact that she was asked to do another special project when the first one was near completion. This is also made clear when Mary was asked to continue working for Little Lamb Company for two more years. However, this principle is based on the idea that there exists a special relationship of trust and reliance between the employer and employee and this can be measured by length of service (Vettori, 2007). In the case of Mary two years of work under at-will-employment is not enough to show that there was a special relationship of trust and reliance.

At first glance it may seem that the Little Lamb Company is in breach of implied contract because of the way it treated Mary, starting from changing her status from a contract to an at-will employee and letting her stay and work for two more years can be interpreted as the company being satisfied by the way she perform as a programmer. But this does not immediately mean that there was a contract implied or otherwise. In Guz v. Bechtel National, Inc. the California Supreme Court decided that: “even if the employee has worked for a company for a long time, and during that tenure received pay raises, commendations, promotions, and other recognitions of continuing good performance” this does not by itself create an implied contract protecting the employee from being released without just cause (Orrick, 2010).


Mary worked at Little Lamb Company for more than two years, first as an independent contractor and then as an employee. It was clear that there was a change in the employer-employee relationship because she was asked to do things that only apply to employees. Thus, when she was released from employment there could be grounds to contest the dismissal based on the breach of implied contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of public policy. However, there was no contract or any form of written agreement stating that Mary can only be terminated by first establishing just cause. This is because she is under at-will-employment and in this scenario the employer can terminate her services without just cause. It is very clear that the doctrine of at-will-employment protects the interest of the employer and if Mary wanted to have job security the only way to do so would be to secure an agreement or a contract from Little Lamb Company that she can only be terminated with just cause.


Law Library-American Law and Legal Information. (2010). Employment at Will-Breach of an

Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing. Accessed 01 August 2010 from


Reda, J., S. Reifler, & L. Thatcher. (2008). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Vettori, S. (2007). The Employment Contract and the Changed World of Work. VT: Ashgate


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