Can An Employee Be Fired Without Warning?

Question:

If you are at a job and your boss out of the blue comes to you and says he got a phone call saying that you had an affair with a client and then procedes to fire you, is there legal action that I can take? I don’t think that it is right at all the way that he did it.

Signed,

Wondering About Firing


Answer:

Dear Wondering About Firing:

You don’t say if it is you or a friend who was fired, but the answer would be the same: Whether or not the firing was lawful or appropriate would depend upon the organization and its rules, as well as any contracts or regulations involved.

Some organizations have HR policies that require an investigation and review of disciplinary recommendations before a dismissal can take place. Other organizations have contracts that require due process (an investigation and review) for employees before action can be taken. Still others have union or employee association contracts.

However, many businesses and organizations do not have those procedures and employees serve at will–which is to say, the employer’s will. In those situations, all that is needed is for an employer to say that the employee is no longer wanted or needed at work. That is particularly true when a rules violation is one that is considered severe. In most large organizations a manager couldn’t fire someone summarily. They would have to get approval from someone else. But, if the person doing the firing owns the company and it’s a smaller organization, all that is needed is to say the dreaded words, “You’re fired.”

If, in this case, the accusations were untrue, perhaps the employee can ask for an investigation, or present evidence to show he was falsely accused. If the accusations were true, perhaps the employee can ask for leniency and commit to not doing such a thing again. Or, if there was some legal problem with what happened, the employee might consult an attorney. Often such attorneys will provide a free phone consultation. However, most of the information about the legality of a firing can be found by checking the HR policies of the organization involved and by checking the department of labor in the state involved.

None of this addresses the real trauma and upset of losing a job, whether it was justified or not. Hopefully in this case, the work performance otherwise was good. The employee should try to get copies of evaluations, if there were any given, to show his performance at work. That way he will have something to include with applications for other jobs, or to include in job interviews.

I hope these thoughts were helpful. Being fired is one of the most upsetting things in life. I hope the employee involved in this case can move forward positively. Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.