Reasons Why Employees Get Fired

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 5, 2020
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The threat of being fired often looms over employees’ heads, especially if they’ve just recently started a job. Companies fire employees for multiple reasons, though, by law, they don’t always need one.

Most employees are classified as at-will employees, meaning that they can be fired at any time without any reason or notice from the employer. This sounds like a particularly cold and extreme method of firing, which is why most employers fire with a specific cause in mind.

By understanding and avoiding the different causes that lead employers to fire someone, employees can lower their risk of termination.

This article lists and explains the top ten reasons why employees get fired. Many of these are the practical causes you would expect but, if you’re looking for some bizarre firing stories for a good laugh, Zippia also has you covered.

Typical Reasons for Getting Fired

The following list consists of the most common reasons employees get fired. If you’re especially paranoid about keeping your job, use this as a reference point for what not to do in the workplace:

  1. Damaging or stealing company property. Damaging or stealing property from the workplace count as serious offenses, and they can get you fired from any position.

    Company cars, phones, laptops, or uniforms don’t belong to employees, so they’re expected to remain in good condition throughout your employment. If you damage any of this equipment, you can be terminated, whether it was an accident or not. These damages could be expensive to replace and might even prevent an employee from fulfilling a job responsibility.

    Stealing warrants severe punishment, whether you’ve stolen valuables, cash, or general office supplies like pens and paper for personal use.

  2. Drug or alcohol possession while on the job. This one may seem pretty obvious. Drinking, smoking, or any kind of drug use on the company’s time guarantees that you’ll be fired. This includes arriving to work intoxicated, especially in any way that interferes with your job performance.

    You could get into particularly severe trouble in this case, depending on age restrictions regarding alcohol and drugs, as well as the type of drug, since some may be illegal.

    Most alcoholism and drug addiction cases are classified as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, this law only requires that the employer give the employee time off for treatment. It doesn’t prevent an employer from terminating an employer for being intoxicated at work.

  3. Falsifying company records. Falsifying documents involves changing or modifying information on a form with the intention of misleading someone. These documents could include employee timesheets, tax returns, bank account records, or sales records. Anything that defrauds a company or its customers could have harmful effects on everyone involved.

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    This level of dishonesty is unethical and could potentially cause long-term legal or performance problems for the company. In some cases, this could also result in jail time for the person convicted, depending on the severity of the falsification.

  4. Inappropriate social media use. Companies have the right to fire an employee based on social media use. If they find that an employee engages in activities, behaviors, or language that doesn’t align with company policy outside of work, that employee could be subject to termination. Another issue could be insulting the employer online.

    Think twice before posting a Twitter rant about the terrible day you had at work or sharing those embarrassing selfies from your drunk weekend. It might seem extreme for your employers to monitor your life on social media, but they’re within their rights to fire you for anything they might consider inappropriate.

    Most social media websites have privacy options, so make sure to enable them to limit this kind of risk. You could also create separate personal and professional social media accounts to avoid any overlap between both parts of your life.

  5. Insubordination. While it’s doubtful that you’ll always agree with your manager or be happy to carry out a task, outright refusing to do work could get you in trouble. Deliberately obstructive behavior or a combative tone might lead you to lose your job, especially depending on the behavior’s frequency.

    If you disagree with something your boss says or does or want to express unhappiness with specific tasks or conditions, address it privately and professionally.

    If you’re refusing to do something you think would violate a policy or break the law, contact the human resources department for help.

  6. Misconduct or inappropriate behavior. This category is very broad and includes sexual harassment, bullying, criminal misbehavior, fraud, dishonesty, and physical or verbal abuse.

    A company can undoubtedly fire an employee for any of these, but they could also face additional charges depending on the action’s severity.

  7. Poor performance. This might be among the mildest of all possible offenses and also the most common.

    Companies want employees who complete tasks efficiently, and poor performance can lead to an employee becoming a liability that wastes the company’s valuable resources.

    If you don’t fulfill the duties outlined in your job description, consistently need oversight or to redo your work, or receive constant warnings about your performance, your employer might see you as a lousy investment and fire you.

  8. Taking too much time off. This could include consistent tardiness, frequently taking sick days, taking unapproved time off, or not coming into work when expected.

    It’s probably not the best idea to fake an illness at least once a week, just to get an extra day off. Repeated and prolonged absences at work could interfere with your job performance and the work of other employees on your team. Watch out for this, especially if your job is team-oriented or often has to complete projects.

  9. Using company property for personal reasons. Depending on the company, your employers might not mind if you use a company device for a personal document or email every once in a while. The problem arises when you’re frequently getting caught using the company internet or equipment for personal use rather than work.

    Using laptops, printers, and scanners for non-work purposes could be considered theft by some companies, which is grounds for termination.

  10. Violating company policy. Workplace policies are unique to each company, so make sure to review your company’s policies before you get started (yes, this means you should read through all those bulky documents the hiring manager emailed you when you were hired). A violation could be taken quite seriously, depending on the company and the policy.

    Company policies could cover a range of things, such as workplace language, dress code, following procedures, office dating, and social media conduct. These kinds of violations would usually consist of smaller slip-ups, but it’s always best to be informed of the rules so you can avoid breaking them.

These are ways getting fired could be entirely under your control, but note that there are times when you don’t expect it.

Job termination is completely different than a layoff, which happens when an employee is let go or forced to resign due to a lack of resources or work on the employer’s end. This is usually unexpected and outside of the employee’s control.

Employee Rights When a Job Is Terminated

If you get fired (either due to some combination of the above reasons, a forced resignation, or a layoff), you do have rights that protect you. An employee has the right to receive a final paycheck and continuing health insurance coverage and has the option of severance pay and unemployment benefits.

  • Final paycheck. In some states, the time frame in which an employee has to receive their final paycheck depends on if they quit or were fired. California has especially strict laws, stating that fired employees should receive paychecks within one business day. If an employee quits without notice, the paycheck should be provided within 72 hours.

  • Health insurance coverage. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) of 1985 ensures that families have the right to continued healthcare coverage for a limited time after separation from an employer.

  • Severance pay. In exchange for not suing an employer after being forced to resign, employees are offered a severance package that includes a lump sum payment and other possible benefits. This isn’t required and usually depends on an agreement between an individual employer and employee.

  • Unemployment benefits. A terminated employee could receive compensation to make up for lost income after separation. This is usually less than the employee’s regular pay and lasts for about 26 weeks.

You’re encouraged to seek assistance if you have any questions about these rights, if you believe you’ve been discriminated against, or if you think your termination is wrongful or unlawful.

Termination may be unlawful if:

  • An implied contract governs the terms of the employment relationship

  • Firing the employee violates public policy

  • Firing the employee violates laws that prohibit discrimination

  • Firing the employee was in retaliation for a specific act protected by law

The U.S. Department of Labor lists each law regulating employment and can help give some advice on filing a claim. You also have the option of checking with your state labor department for more specific information on local employment laws.

Final Thoughts

Getting fired is hard to navigate, whether you see it coming or not. You have to deal with the fallout of separating from one employer, potentially impacting your chances with a future one.

Be aware of these common reasons for employee termination, and do your best to avoid the behaviors associated with them. This way, you’ll have a better chance of protecting your job.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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