Do firms with employee ownership (EO) programs exhibit greater employment stability in the face of economic downturns? In particular, are firms with EO programs less likely to lay off workers during negative shocks? In this article, we examine the relationship between EO programs and employment stability in the United States using longitudinal Form 5500‐CompuStat matched data on the universe of publicly traded companies during 1999–2011. We examine how firms with EO programs weathered the recessions of 2001 and 2008 in terms of employment stability relative to firms without EO programs, and also whether such firms were less likely to lay off workers when faced with negative shocks more broadly. In our econometric analyses, we use a rich array of measures of EO at firms, including the presence of EO stock in pension plans, the presence of employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), the value of EO stock per employee, the share of the firm owned by employees, the share of workers at the firm participating in EO and the share of workers at the firm participating in ESOPs. We also consider both economy‐wide negative shock measures (increases in the unemployment rate, declines in the employment‐to‐population ratio) and firm‐specific negative shock measures (declines in firm sales, declines in firm stock price). Our results indicate that EO firms exhibit greater employment stability in the face of economy‐wide and firm‐specific negative shocks.