Europe: The big divide
Cultural and political issues highlight key differences between US and European employment law
Why is it we are so different on each side of the pond when it comes to employment law? First of all, our systems are radically different. It goes beyond the traditional difference between the common law countries and the civil law ones. Most common law countries did amend their employment laws, introducing a range of protective laws. The US seems quite isolated with its ‘employment at will’ approach. Without an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, either employer or employee may terminate the employment relationship at will. US employees are thus not protected by law against dismissal as such (but they are protected against discrimination in employment decisions, including dismissal, hence the number and scope of discrimination claims in the US compared to Europe). The ‘employment law at will’ approach goes beyond the dismissal issue and affects the way US employers look at the workplace and explains why they are surprised when they discover our rules and practices in Europe (especially our numerous information and consultation rules and the range of protection against dismissal). It is more than a legal clash. There is a cultural and political gap, especially with continental Western Europe, where the collective right approach (versus the individual right one) has been pushed so hard and where the unions can be so powerful.
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