In the eyes of the law, the employer-employee relationship should be looked at more like a marriage, one legal expert argues.

Marion Crain, an expert on labor and employment law and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, said current work laws ignore the interdependence and mutual investment employees and employers have in each other by using a model that promotes an impersonal cash-for-labor association.

Crain suggests looking at other legal models, such as marriage laws, to more accurately respond to the realities of the employment relationship, especially during times of terminations.

"The employment relationship possesses many attributes that we associate with marriage: emotional and economic investment, interdependence and expectations that the relationship will endure absent bad behavior," she said. "Marriage law offers a status-based framework designed to recognize and protect investment in relationships characterized by interdependence and investment."

Crain contends the law must be restructured to consider the emotional and financial investment employees make in their employers.

"It’s time to reform the employment law framework from one that assumes an arm's-length exchange of labor for dollars to one that recognizes employment as a relationship," Crain said.

The differences might be as simple as requiring notice and severance pay linked to longevity and investment, Crain said, or as radical as recognizing new common law claims based on property rights for workers.

Crain's full argument appears in in a recent issue of the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy.

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