Fired Because I Was Looking For a New Job: Advice From Attorneys

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Fired Because I Was Looking For a New Job: Advice From Attorneys

Zippia reports that 40% of people have been fired from a job. It’s not uncommon and is often tied to an employee’s behavior or work ethic. What if you’re fired because you were looking for another job? Is that legal?

FlexJobs shared a list of the top reasons people list as reasons they’re looking for a new job. The top five sound familiar to you.

  • It’s a toxic work environment or company.
  • The salary is too low.
  • Management isn’t effective or enjoyable.
  • The work-life balance is focused more on work than life.
  • There’s no option to work remotely when the weather is bad or someone is sick.

Say you’ve started looking for a new job. Is it legal for your employer to fire you for doing so? Here’s the problem, most states, including California, have at-will employment terms. Your employer can end your position at any time without a reason. 

Understanding At-Will Employment

Montana is the only state that doesn’t follow at-will employment. The NCSL defines at-will employment as the employer’s right to “terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.”

There are exceptions to this rule. 

  • An employer cannot fire you for one of the protected reasons provided by the EEOC.
  • An employer cannot fire you if it’s against your employment contract
  • An employer cannot fire you if you refuse to do something that is prohibited by law.
  • You cannot be fired for doing things that are in the public interest, such as performing jury duty.
  • You cannot be fired for exercising your rights, such as filing a claim for worker’s compensation.
  • You cannot be fired for reporting your employer’s violation of the law to authorities.

If you’re a union worker with a clause that says union workers may only be fired if certain criteria are met, you cannot be fired without reason. Your employer must have a viable reason for the termination, such as drug or alcohol use at work, stealing from the company, or violating your contract.

Things You May Do That Justify Being Fired

You may have done something that justifies your termination while you’re looking for a new job. Here are some of the common mistakes.

Your job search was done when you were at work and not on a break. 

You used your company’s computers and the internet to search for a new job.

You neglected your work duties, such as failing to answer phones while completing a phone interview.

You accessed company databases to find customers who might have a position for you.

If you’ve done something unethical or against company policies while searching for a new job, you can’t argue if you lose your job. It may not be ideal for you, but it was a risk you took.

What Is Wrongful Termination?

Wrongful termination occurs when an employer fires you for one of the forms of discrimination that’s prohibited by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). These are the types of discrimination that are illegal.

  • Age – Discrimination against anyone 40 or older.
  • Disability – Discrimination against anyone with a history of, perceived, or current mental or physical condition that limits abilities at work or requires reasonable accommodation.
  • Equal Pay – Unequal pay or company-sponsored employment benefits between men and women in the same workplace who perform the same job duties.
  • Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation/Sex – A continuation of sexual discrimination that’s based on a person being transgender or in a same-sex relationship or marriage.
  • Genetic Information – Discrimination against a worker due to their family history of a medical condition, disorder, or disease.
  • Harassment – Conduct that is unwelcome and affects your work and is based on any of the protected reasons in this list.
  • National Origin – Discrimination based on where you came from.
  • Pregnancy – Discrimination that occurs when trying to get pregnant, current pregnancy, or post-pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Race/Color – Discrimination based on your race and/or color of your skin.
  • Religion – Discrimination based on your religion.
  • Retaliation – Retaliation by someone you work with, a client, contractor, or employer after you report something they did wrong or file a harassment or discrimination complaint.
  • Sexual Harassment – Harassment faced because of your sex or gender identity or unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual acts.

If you have evidence that your firing had to do with any of those protected classes, get as much evidence as you can. For example, after you’re fired, your co-worker forwards you an email chain about how management used your job search to cover the truth about firing you due to your age. That’s proof that can help your case.

Be Discreet When Applying for Jobs

Keep your search for a new job as quiet as you can. Fill out applications and send resumes and CVs at home from your personal computer. You can’t bring a home computer and do it at work. You’d still be using the company’s internet.

When it comes to interviews, arrange as many as you can outside of work hours. If that’s not possible, schedule them for your lunch breaks and days off. Use personal time if you need to.  Don’t try to pull off a video conference interview in your office during your lunch or break. Someone might overhear or walk in. If you can’t wait until you get home, go to a coffee shop or quiet restaurant and see if they mind you doing it there with the purchase of a drink or meal.

During your interviews, don’t bad-mouth your current employer. Use discretion in how much you talk about. Instead of saying how your boss is misogynistic and overbearing, you could say that the workplace culture shifted and no longer meshes with your personality and strong work ethic.

As long as you searched for a job on your personal time and have evidence that your termination wasn’t for an allowable reason, you may have a valid case against your employer. Gather all of the evidence you can to help back your claim.

Whenever you have any uncertainty, it pays to talk to an expert in California employment law. Shegerian Conniff is happy to discuss your circumstances, let you know if you have a valid complaint, and walk you through the next steps if you do. Reach us online or by phone for a free consultation.

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