Though the list is seemingly endless, the following are ten of the most common legal reasons for which a person’s employment may be terminated. Some may mistake these reasons for illegal ones, yet, in fact, it is legal for an employer to fire a person for these reasons.
If a person’s employment is terminated for these reasons, they most probably would not have a reason to file a complaint with a federal or state agency, or file a civil lawsuit for breach of an employment contract or wrongful termination.
It is important to note when a person can sue for breach of an employment contract. This can be done if the person has a contract with their employer and their employer fails to respect some clause or provision in it. Probably most contracts would not excuse an employee from the obligations shown below.
Wrongful termination is by definition being fired for an illegal reason. Among the reasons for being fired that are illegal would be firing an employee because of their race, gender, ethnic background, religion, or disability.
It is also illegal to fire an employee because they lodged a legal complaint against the employer, or because the employee has acted as a whistleblower and brought an employer’s wrongdoing to light. Firings for these reasons are considered “retaliation” and can serve as grounds for a civil lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Another thing to note is that most people have “at-will” employment, which means they can be fired for any reason, other than discrimination or whistleblower retaliation. However, a contract of employment can be implied from circumstances and might limit what an employer can do.
Employers who tell employees, whether during the hiring process, or through an employment manual, that they are at-will employees, can rely on this communication of the terms of employment in the event a former employee files a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Some employers have new employees sign a contract that states that the employment is “at-will” before employment begins in order to protect themselves. Employers also have the right to fire employees for “just cause,” which refers to misconduct by the employee, such as that in the examples below.
Generally speaking, an employer is not going to terminate a person’s employment unless the person gives the employer a good reason to do so, for example, by doing these things:
If an employee is frequently late, leaves early or is absent completely without a valid excuse, the employer may quickly tire of their behavior. A person’s failure to comply with a company’s policies regarding attendance, including arrival and departure times and valid excuses for absence, can lead to termination of a person’s employment.
An employee who fails to meet the requirements of the job in terms of the performance expected, or who fails to improve after a poor performance review, may have their employment terminated.
Misconduct is a term that implies serious wrongdoing, and yet covers a broad variety of behaviors. Things such as engaging in violence in the workplace, using foul language, having inappropriate relationships with colleagues, clients or others in the workplace, all may come within the definition of “misconduct.”
Destruction of company property also falls within the definition of misconduct. Additionally, the company may take legal action against the employee in serious cases.
Non-Compliance with Company Policy:
If an employee does not follow company policy, for example, by being insubordinate towards upper management, this could be grounds for termination of employment. Insubordination generally means failing to comply with the directions of a supervisor or other person in a position of authority above the employee.
A person’s employment may also be terminated for wasting colleagues’ time, i.e. socializing at work too much rather than working, or lowering the company’s morale, e.g. by making negative comments about the company, its management, employees and other topics of importance to the operation’s success.
Social Media While Working:
Some companies may allow limited social media interaction, while others may terminate a person’s employment if the person is found to be abusing social media in the workplace. A person should always assume that their workplace email and other social media accounts are for use exclusively for work purposes and not for personal communication.
Some employers may tolerate limited personal communication via email or other modes of communication, e.g. cell phones. But it is safest to assume that if they use their office email account or office cell phone for personal communication, they had better keep the personal use very limited. And before doing even that, a person may want to check with colleagues about their practice in using company email and phones for personal purposes.
A person at work should assume that their Internet access is monitored and they should strenuously avoid making personal use of the Internet at work.
Also not allowed is complaining about one’s career or sharing company information online and outside of official channels through which information is supposed to be shared with clients, with the public and the like.
Falsifying a Job Application or Resume:
Lying on a resume or job application is definitely something to avoid. If an employee is caught doing so, the employer may dismiss the employee. If a person fails to report any felony criminal convictions when they are asked to report them on an application, if education and other credentials are misrepresented, or any previous employers were omitted — these are all grounds for termination.
Drugs and Alcohol:
Intoxication and employment do not mix. If an employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol while on company property, their employment may be terminated. Some companies offer employee assistance programs that help treat substance abuse, and they may be used as an alternative to termination. However, going to work intoxicated is a common basis for termination.
Time and Property Theft:
Reporting more hours on a timesheet than a person worked is likely to get them fired. The theft of company property can also land a person in the unemployment office and lead to possible litigation.
Personal Business on Company Time:
Regardless of what is going on at home, if a person brings it to work and wastes the company’s time tending to personal business, the person may be asked to leave. If a person has pressing business at home to take care of, they should consider taking time off work to deal with it.
Disclosing Company Secrets:
There is a reason many companies have non-disclosure agreements, and if an employee breaches them, they will be terminated.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Wrongful Termination?
While the above list gives examples of legally acceptable reasons for the termination of employment, it is possible to be fired for the wrong reason. If you have been terminated from your job and think that your termination was wrongful or based on illegal discrimination, then you need to speak with a wrongful termination attorney as soon as possible.
A lawyer can help gather facts, advise you on your best course of action, and represent your best interests in dealing with your former employer.