In recent months, “the Great Resignation” has taken news outlets and workplaces by storm as the catchiest way to describe record numbers of employees leaving their jobs. But the current framing of the Great Resignation as a labor shortage crisis misses the point. It’s not about a lack of work ethic or increased security afforded by stimulus checks – it’s about employees asserting their right to better pay, benefits, and working conditions.
Where Did “The Great Resignation” Come from, Anyways?
In May 2021, Associate Professor Anthony Klotz pioneered the “Great Resignation” term in an interview with Bloomberg when he predicted workers would soon leave their jobs in droves. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) confirmed that over four million Americans quit their jobs in April just a few weeks later, news outlets latched onto the idea of using “The Great Resignation” as their term of choice to describe the phenomenon.
While referring to this movement as The Great Resignation is certainly evocative (and calls back to other “great” events, such as the Great Recession in 2007 or Great Depression in the 1930s), many feel that it implies workers are voluntarily leaving jobs with little reason – which couldn’t be further from the truth.
A resignation crisis feels like a limiting metaphor when leaving a job may just be collateral to a deeper realignment in American work life.Kathryn Hymes, Wired
Workers aren’t resigning because they don’t want to work; they’re resigning because employers don’t provide the income, flexibility, and work-life balance they deserve.
The Great Resignation: Flash in the Pan, or Full-On Oil Fire?
Many view the great resignation as a momentary occurrence. At The Guardian, Erika Rodriguez wrote, “this is a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment.”
That may not be entirely true. From April to August of 2021, an astounding 19.8 million American workers left their jobs. That trend won’t buck anytime soon – according to Bankrate’s August 2021 jobseeker survey, around 55% of respondents anticipate looking for a new job sometime in the next year.
Workers aren’t just resigning en masse in the U.S. – a survey of 6,000 employees from recruitment firm Randstad U.K. found that 69% of respondents were “confident” they’d move to a new role in the next few months, with 24% expecting to change positions within three to six months. Comparatively, the firm usually sees 11% of workers change positions annually.
If the data is to be believed, the great resignation won’t wind down anytime soon.
There Is No Employment Crisis behind The Great Resignation
Despite record numbers of resignations, the U.S. unemployment rate has continually fallen, decreasing by 0.4 percentage points to 4.8% in September 2021.
An additional survey from Randstad U.K. found that 65% of respondents voted work-life balance as their top driver when seeking new employment, the first time in seven years that salary wasn’t the top pull factor. In the U.S., 56% of respondents to the Bankrate jobseeker survey said the same.
Employees are still looking for work – and they’re finding it. They’re just seeking out employers that respect them and their time.
When an employee quits, more resignations often follow in their wake. After workers quit, their workloads often get reassigned to others in the workplace. As a result, many employees have recently found themselves with increased responsibilities, and it’s burning them out.
A survey by SHRM in early July reported that 55% of U.S. workers said at least one colleague had left in the past six months, and 52% of those respondents were burdened with more work as a result. Thirty percent of that group said they were struggling to complete their extra tasks. Around 80% of U.S. workers felt overworked before the Great Resignation, so it’s little wonder they’re quitting in record numbers after having even more work piled on them.
To try and stem the bleeding, many employers are offering retention bonuses and policies to workers, and 58% of organizations that responded to another SHRM survey reported increased starting salaries and wages aimed at attracting new hires.
To that end, the Great Resignation is serving its purpose – employees are leaving workplaces that undervalue them and finding opportunities that provide the pay, flexibility, and benefits they deserve.
Employment Law Violations During COVID-19 & the Great Resignation
The past year and a half hasn’t just seen employees resign in record numbers – it’s also been defined by a sharp rise in employment lawsuits.
Many employees, such as Charles Collins, left employers due to COVID-19 safety violations. At Collins’ workplace, when he told HR that the lack of safety measures at work made him fear contracting COVID-19, he was told to return to work or resign.
Collins went on to file a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey. His experience is hardly one-of-a-kind. The Department of Labor has cited 1,679 COVID-19 violations as of February 2021, with OSHA adding another 295 incidents to total figures.
Despite at-will employment laws, employees may be able to seek legal action against their employers for a wide range of reasons. If you’ve lost your job or experienced one of the following workplace law violations, you may be able to seek legal action against your former employer:
- FMLA interference. The Family Medical Leave Act entitles eligible employees to take up to twelve workweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain events, such as the birth of a child, or to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition. Many employees have utilized the FMLA to care for loved ones struck by COVID-19, and some have found themselves wrongfully terminated as a result.
- Retaliation. Many employees take to social media to highlight safety violations or write about experiences with workplace harassment. If an employer retaliates by acting punitively toward an employee in the workplace or terminating them, the employee could file a retaliation or wrongful termination suit.
- Breach of contract. Breach of contract cases are somewhat rare in the U.S. due to at-will employment laws. However, employers who violate clearly defined contract terms, such as assigning work that falls outside the terms of an employee’s contract or failing to award the salary or severance they are entitled to for invalid reasons, could face breach of contract cases.
- Discrimination. Many recent employment lawsuits involve a combination of discriminatory behavior and safety violations. For example, many Asian American employees unfortunately faced unfair treatment at work this year, resulting in discrimination and wrongful termination suits.
- Wage and hour disputes. Employers cannot ask employees to work unpaid overtime, or fail to pay them for missed meal and lunch breaks. Many essential workers found themselves working unpaid overtime or receiving fewer breaks than they were entitled to, and could be eligible to file a wage and hour suit as a result.
Bad employers don’t stop until someone takes action.
At Wilshire Law Firm, our award-winning team knows there’s no excuse for abuse. Our employment attorneys are dedicated to helping employees fight for their rights, ensuring they receive the counsel they deserve.