The development of the employment-at-will doctrine has tracked the changing character of the work force from the days of simple master-servant domestic relations to the commercial realities of twentieth-century industrial capitalism. The rule grew out of the humane principle that it would be unjust to employ a laborer during the planting and harvesting months, only to discharge that laborer during the harsh winter. Hence, the realities of the agrarian economy of the British Isles and the closeness of the master and domestic servant relationship shaped the yearly hiring rule. This rule developed into a presumption that a hiring for an indefinite term was a hiring for a year and extended to all types of workers.
Gary S. Marshall & Maris M. Wicker,
The Status of the At-Will Employment Doctrine in Virginia after Bowman v. State Bank of Keysville,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: http://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol20/iss2/3