In general, firing an employee without warning is not considered illegal. However, the legality of such an action mainly depends on your employment contract with your employer.
Most employees are considered “at-will” employees, meaning that the employer can terminate your employment without warning as long as the reason for termination is not illegal. As an at-will employee, you also have the right to quit your job without providing a reason or notice.
Keep in mind that regulations regarding termination procedures may vary from state to state, so it is crucial to research local regulations. In some cases, a written employment contract providing job security may require an employer to provide a warning before termination, making it illegal to fire without warning.
Did the Employer Act in Good Faith and Fair Dealing?
Courts may consider several factors to determine if an employer breached good faith and fair dealing when firing an employee without warning.
Firing or Transferring an Employee to Prevent them from Collecting Sales Commissions
Sometimes, an employer may terminate an employee or transfer them to a different department or location to prevent them from earning sales commissions they would have otherwise been entitled to receive.
This action demonstrates a lack of good faith on the employer’s part and may be considered a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Employees who believe they were fired or transferred for this reason may have a valid claim for wrongful termination or breach of contract.
Misleading Employees about Promotion Opportunities and Wage Increases
Employers who deceive their employees about potential promotion opportunities or wage increases can be seen as acting in bad faith. This could involve making false promises or providing misleading information about the likelihood of promotions or raises.
Employees who have been misled in this way may suffer financial and professional harm. In some cases, they may have a legal claim for damages or other remedies based on their employer’s deceitful actions.
Concealing the Real Reason for Firing an Employee to Hire Someone Else at a Lower Salary
An employer might hide the actual reason for terminating an employee to replace them with someone who will accept a lower salary. This deceptive practice is not only unethical but may also be a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
If an employee can prove that their employer terminated them to hire a less expensive replacement, they may have a valid legal claim for wrongful termination or breach of contract.
Failing to Fully Inform the Employee about Potential Negative Aspects of the Job
Employers have a responsibility to be honest and upfront with their employees about the realities of a job, including any potential drawbacks or challenges. If an employer deliberately withholds important information about negative aspects of a position, this could be seen as a breach of good faith and fair dealing.
Employees not fully informed about their job’s downsides may face undue hardship, stress, or financial consequences. In some cases, they may be able to seek legal remedies for their employer’s failure to provide accurate information about the job.
Does The Firing Without Warning Show Any Discrimination or Violations of Public Policy?
It is illegal to fire an employee in a manner that violates public policy or is discriminatory. Most states have laws outlining what constitutes a violation of public policy, and firing an employee for any of these reasons may lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Some examples of public policy violations include:
- Failing to pay an employee rightfully earned commissions and accrued vacation pay;
- Firing an employee for taking necessary time off for jury duty, voting, or military service; and
- Disclosing information about a company’s wrongdoing that is harmful to the public (whistleblowers are protected).
If you were fired due to your race, religion, color, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, pregnancy, or disability, you might have a strong case against your employer for workplace discrimination.
Did the Firing Occur Due to Retaliation or Whistle-blowing?
It is illegal to fire an employee for retaliation or whistle-blowing. Employers cannot fire you for reporting misconduct in the workplace, such as health or safety hazards and harassment, either internally or by an outside agency. Whistleblowers are also protected from being fired for reporting dangerous activities, like improper disposal of toxic chemicals or shareholder fraud.
If you were fired for either of these reasons, you may have a claim for wrongful termination against your employer.
What Are Some Warning Signs of Termination?
While warning signs of termination vary across workplaces, here are some common red flags to watch out for.
Your Boss is Consistently Dissatisfied with Your Work
If your boss frequently expresses dissatisfaction with your performance, it could indicate your job is at risk. This dissatisfaction may manifest through regular negative feedback, critical comments, or poor performance evaluations.
To address this issue, try seeking clarification on expectations, ask for specific feedback on improving, and create a plan to address the areas where you struggle.
You Have Been Disciplined for Breaking Company Rules
Being disciplined for violating company policies or procedures can be a warning sign of potential termination. This may involve written warnings, reprimands, or being placed on a performance improvement plan (PIP). To avoid further disciplinary action, familiarize yourself with company rules, adhere to policies and procedures, and demonstrate a commitment to rectifying any issues.
You are Excluded from Meetings and Projects You Typically Handle
Being left out of important meetings or not being assigned to projects you usually work on can signal that your role in the company is being diminished. This exclusion could indicate that your employer is shifting responsibilities away from you or preparing for your departure. To address this issue, communicate with your boss about your concerns and ask for opportunities to be involved in relevant projects and meetings.
You Have Been Demoted or Received Less Work
A demotion or reduced work responsibilities can be a warning sign of potential termination. This may involve being reassigned to a lower-level position, changing your job title, or experiencing a decreased workload.
To address this issue, discuss your concerns with your boss and ask for clarification on the reasons for these changes. Work on improving your performance and demonstrate your value to the company.
Your One-on-One Meetings with Your Boss are Frequently Canceled
If your scheduled meetings with your boss are often canceled or postponed without explanation, it could be a sign that your manager is disengaging from your professional development. This disengagement may indicate that your position is at risk.
To address this issue, make an effort to reschedule the meetings, express your interest in receiving feedback and guidance, and maintain open lines of communication with your boss.
Recognizing these warning signs can help you proactively address any issues and improve your performance at work.
Should I Hire a Lawyer if I’ve Been Fired Without Warning?
If you believe you were fired illegally, consider the type of employment contract you had with your employer. This can help you determine if you have been wrongfully terminated. If you suspect that your employer fired you for an illegal reason, seeking the assistance of a wrongful termination lawyer can help you build a case against your employer.