“I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to let you go!”. In an uncertain economy, they’re the words that we all dread hearing. What’s more, most of us are unaware of just how close we can come to hearing them.
In a perfect world, your boss would need a damn good reason to let you go, and send you into the spiral of poverty, anxiety and low self-esteem that unemployment (however temporary) can be for most people.
This is due to what is known as the “Employment At Will” dictum. This applies to a great many salaried workers and basically means that your boss can fire you for any reason (or no reason at all) unless you can prove that you are being discriminated against, which we’ll go into later.
Many people go about their day, not knowing how close they can come to unemployment. Tell a joke that your boss doesn’t like, forget to wear a tie or even fail to share your box of birthday chocolates and your boss can legally fire you.
Just because your boss can fire you, doesn’t mean they will
Of course, it’s not usually in a business’ best interests to terminate your employment under the flimsiest of pretexts.
In the age of social media, employees have a greater forum than ever to hold their employers to account and even if employers are legally vindicated, employees can write a scathing review on a site like Glass Door to ward away others and potentially make recruitment more difficult for the company.
How do you know that your employment is on an “at will” basis
Your employer is legally obligated to state in your contract of employment that you are employed on an “at will” basis.
If, for example, you are on a temporary two-year contract, you cannot be fired unless you are found to be in breach of your firm’s codes of conduct or you have broken the law. Yet, even if you are employed on an “at will” basis, this does not mean that you are without rights.
Even “at will” employees are protected from workplace discrimination which means that if they can demonstrate that they have been discriminated against, employees can take legal action against their employers.
Know your rights
Under employment discrimination laws your boss is unable to fire you on the basis of your age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation or if you have a disability.
These are the most commonly protected forms of discrimination but they are not the only fields in which employees can defend themselves. Let’s say you’ve been injured at work, despite taking health and safety precautions as described in your employee handbook.
You liaise with a personal injury attorney who believes that you have grounds to make claim against your employer. If your employer immediately fires you as a result of this, this could be considered a form of unfair discrimination.
Employment at will is an unfortunate reality for many employees in today’s economy but it does mean that employees should tolerate harassment or discrimination at work.