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Monday, July 13, 2009

can I be fired for this?

A question I get a lot is "My boss is firing me for ___. Can he do this?"

Yes, probably.

Most employees in the U.S. are at-will, meaning that you can be fired for any reason at all, as long as it's not based on illegal discrimination (i.e., firing you because of your race, gender, religion, or other protected class). There are two exceptions this: (1) if you have a contract, or (2) if your company has an employee manual that commits to always using specific disciplinary procedures before firing someone -- if it does, it's generally obligated to follow those procedures first.

But aside from that, it's generally legal to fire someone for any reason, even if the reason is unfair or illogical.

Is it smart to fire someone for silly reasons? No, of course not. But that's a different question.


Anonymous said...

I was under the impression it was also illegal to fire an employee (even an at-will employee) for exercising his or her legal rights. For example, if I am non-exempt and working 50 hours a week without the appropriate additional pay for the overtime and I complain about it, my understanding was that it would be illegal to fire me. Is this incorrect?

Ask a Manager said...

Yes, there are laws about firing someone as retaliation for exercising their legal rights. Here's a good article about it, which explains some of the considerations.

Rebecca said...

Note that those protected classes are interpreted very narrowly.

For example, "marital status" only addresses the following points:
1. Your employer can't fire you because you are unmarried.
2. Your employer can't fire you because you are married.

That's it.

I'm not saying this to make any particular point -- I'm saying this because people often think laws afford them broader protections than they actually do.