On January 10, 2000, AOL announced its agreement to purchase Time Warner for $164 billion. This event, more than any other, demonstrated the economic power of the internet and the arrival of the so-called “new economy.” The importance and economic power of communication and human connection had, as of that moment if not before, supplanted that of traditional, old line companies.
What does that have to do with employees?
The short answer is “everything.”
Companies no longer have the luxury of selecting “the face of the organization.” In the age of social media, where “connections” are counted, courted, and labeled by degree, everyone is a front line employee. Every employee is in business development. Business operations are not only transparent, but they are broadcast to virtually anyone willing to watch. Trade secrets are becoming so difficult to protect as to almost rise to the level of a contradiction in terms. And competitors, looking for an edge, need often look no further than the Facebook post of one isolated employee having a figurative bad hair day.
It is, for this reason, that the notion of an at-will employee carries more risks for the employer than ever before. Employment contracts may restrict an employer’s options to a certain extent, but they can also be incredibly useful tool when it comes to preventing valuable assets and relationships from walking out the door.
After all, when it comes to legal protection, it is much better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.