Fired! For a Stupid Reason! Can They Do That?

WorkCoachCafeOften, in the USA, yes, you can be fired for a stupid reason, in fact, for almost any reason.

Proof? An interesting news item – two part-time security guards who worked at a Houston football stadium were fired after having their photos taken with NFL quarterback Tom Brady following the Houston team’s loss to Brady’s team that same day.

Fired for having their photos taken with a celebrity? Crazy!

Since most football fans and/or celebrity collectors would be thrilled to have their photos taken with the best quarterback in NFL history (according to New England Patriots fans- Brady’s team), the actions of the company which employed those security guards seem shocking, perhaps even illegal.

A local job seeker (here in Massachusetts) shared his outrage with me, saying, “They can’t fire someone for having their picture taken! That’s illegal!”

The Firing Was Legal

Well, arguably, it might be “evil” (at least to some), but not, apparently, illegal. Why?

These firings could be perfectly legal for a couple of reasons:

  • According to Nolo.com, unless they have a unique contract, many employees in the USA (except Montana) are “employees at will” which means our employer can terminate our employment any time they want to terminate it, for any reason – or for no reason. So, being fired for posing for a photo with the “enemy” quarterback would not be illegal.
  • According to Yahoo.com, these security guards were banned by their employer from requesting autographs from or photographs with the players. So, again, if the security guards violated a company policy that they knew about, then firing them would probably be legal.

 So, employees have no rights and can be fired for any stupid reason? Well, not exactly…

Or Was it?

Employees do have some rights in some circumstances:

  • You have a special agreement with your employer, specifying how (and, often, when) your employment can be, or will be, terminated, and this doesn’t fit. 
  • Your firing was based on a form of discrimination (age, race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) that is illegal in your state. (See Nolo.com for links to each state’s relevant laws.)

Unfortunately, if you choose to fight your job loss, you will probably need to prove that you were not an employee at will. Or, you will need to prove the discrimination. So, keep copies (at home!) of the contract and other paperwork you sign when you start your new job – that could be the “proof” you need to fight your job loss.

Prevention! Choose Your Next Employer Carefully

Be careful of where you work.

Research Your Future Employer

If you can, track down former employees (LinkedIn may be a big help), and gently probe how well they liked working for that employer and why they left. This can be very illuminating, bearing in mind that a former employee might have a bias against the employer.

During the interview process, I always think it’s a good idea to ask the employer if the position is a new one or if they are filling a job previously held by someone else. If the position is not new, ask if the person still works for the employer or has left. If the person has left, that could possibly be an indicator that this is not a good place to work.

Also, ask the interviewers how long each of them have been with the company. If most of them answer fewer than two years, consider this to be a yellow flag, unless the employer is a small, very fast-growing start-up that had very few employees two years ago.

Web Resources and Tactics 

Before you accept a job offer, do some additional online research. (Ideally, do this research before you interview for a job, so you don’t waste your time on an opportunity that might end up being short-term or very unpleasant.)

Employer review sites can be very helpful. Glassdoor.com and Indeed.com both offer employer reviews, submitted by current and former employees. Just search on the potential employer’s name.

Searching Google can turn up some very interesting things. You might find an indication that the employer is not a good place to work. For example, try variations on these Google searches, using the name of the organization you are researching in place of [“employer name”]:

  • [“employer name”] is a bad place to work
  • [“employer name”] sucks
  • [“employer name”] fined for discrimination
  • [“employer name”] pays settlement to employees
  • [“employer name”] settles employee law suit
  • [“employer name”] sued for discrimination
  • [“employer name”] sued for sexual harassment
  • [“employer name”] faces battle on sex discrimination charges
  • [“employer name”] wrongful dismissal
  • don’t work at [“employer name”]
  • [“employer name”] is evil

Take most everything you find online with the proverbial “grain of salt” unless it’s a report on a government website indicating a successful law suit or a settlement.

I Am NOT a Lawyer

If you feel you were fired inappropriately or have a serious grievance with your employer, look for an attorney who specializes in employment law.

More on Being Fired

They Fired My Wife for Browsing So-Called Porn Sites

How Can I Tell if I’m Getting a Pink Slip?

I Was FIRED! Now What?

How Do I Talk About Being Fired in a Job Interview?

© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.

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About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .

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