Judge prevents at-will hospital employees from quitting and working new jobs [resolved: they may quit/start new jobs]

So a judge has ordered 7 employees at a hospital from quitting and working their new jobs. The employees were at-will, so they could have been fired without notice and they can quit without notice. Interestingly, some of them asked their former employers to match the new offers and the employer refused. It seems to me that if you’re not willing to pay them to stay, then they should have the right to leave.

The flip side is it would have negative health consequences for patients.

Personally, I side with the workers on this one. If you’re employing somebody where if they leave suddenly it would have such a catastrophic effect, then maybe you shouldn’t be employing them at-will. Additionally, if they are that valuable maybe the employer should be doing more to try to match the new offers.

Any thoughts on this one Teeming Masses?

Looks like slavery is making a return.

Didn’t we, as running_coach noted, fight a war over this?

It’s unenforceable at any rate. You can’t MAKE someone work. “I’m sick. I’m staying home. Pay me.”

It sounds insane to me. But they got a judge to step in, at least temporarily.

It’s a legal matter, baby
A legal matter from now on

From the linked story.

In the complaint, ThedaCare attorneys wrote that the organization found out Dec. 21 that four interventional radiology technicians had accepted offers with Ascension, and learned Dec. 29 that two nurses planned to make the same move. On Jan. 7, they learned one additional nurse planned to quit and work at Ascension.

Ascension had offered the employees a better benefits package that ThedaCare did not match, Muth said.

They had a month to solve the problem yet their only solution was to get the courts to take sides against another competitor. (And no contract to enforce)

It’s unfortunate the journalist here did not inquire into and report on the legal basis for the decision.

Which was?

I had opened an FQ thread (closed now) about just that. I mean doesn’t a judge have to you know follow the law? I don’t understand how this decision can be legal even if only temporary. How can a judge order you to work for a company especially in an at-will state?

I’ll take the side of the employees here, and assume the courts will eventually come to their senses.

My daughter is a nurse, her husband a doctor. Several times during the ongoing pandemic they’ve threatened to quit. Their demands were met each time.

I assumed @ASL_v2.0 was genuinely asking. I’d likewise like to know specifically how the judge ruled and what was the legal basis. Maybe Wisconsin has some sort of statute that would allow this.

Again from the article.

One of his colleagues received an offer from Ascension that was attractive “not just in pay but also a better work/life balance,” which caused others on his team to apply, Breister wrote.

After approaching ThedaCare with the chance to match the offers they’d been given, Breister wrote that they were told “the long term expense to ThedaCare was not worth the short term cost,” and no counter-offer would be made.
Why match the offer when you can get the courts to interfere?

That’s the thing. I have no idea. Because the article doesn’t really delve into it. For all I know, Wisconsin has some statute that may be relevant to maintaining essential services during a state of emergency. Maybe the basis is somewhere in one of the many emergency orders related to the pandemic, although nothing jumps out at me from a quick google search. Or maybe the judge is just playing by his own rules—but somehow I doubt that.

According to the article they’re not being ordered to work at the old company, they’re being barred from beginning work at the new company.

I, too, wonder what possible basis this has in US law.

That’s true but that makes even less sense. If the problem is that them not working for their old employers will cause a disruption to healthcare, then how does preventing them from working for their new employers help.

Could there possibly be a non-compete clause? I know you said at-will, but that doesn’t mean there is no contract.

As I read these articles, the hospital losing the employees sought an injunction to delay the transfer until they could find replacements.

So, the legal theory is based on a request for an injunction - there will be an imminent harm if something happens, so the court should stop that thing.

At present, it appears that the judge granted the temporary injunction, but wants the parties to resolve this.

Ultimately, though, this would not be a case of preventing these people from taking these new jobs, but waiting to do so until their jobs at the old hospital are covered by others.

(Now, I am sensitive to the fact that the hospital did have notice of these changes, and these are at will employees who should be able to decide where they work. But, the legal rationale is based on the concept of enjoining harmful conduct)

And will the judge establish a deadline for when the old hospital must fill the positions?
As I noted upthread, Thedacare said there was no long term benefit to meeting the demands.

The hospital is apparently requesting 90 days.


That is the legal tool the judge as employed, and he expresses the rationale of something like imminent harm/risk to patients, but nothing explains the legal basis for the judge to do that here. The mere fact that an employer may be harmed by losing an employee does not provide a legal cause to grant an injunction against that employee. There as to be something more.

Some relevant factors may be (speculating here):

  1. This involves healthcare
  2. IIRC, the current employer is in some way part of a government-funded/contracted health system (again, that’s IIRC)
  3. There is a pandemic and there may have been a relevant emergency order pertaining to employment of healthcare workers.
  4. Maybe there is, as you posit, a non-compete clause
  5. Maybe there’s a contractual relationship between old and new (prospective) employer.
  6. ?