Can I Be Fired for Something I Do Outside of Work?
Yes. If you are an at-will employee, which is the case for most private sector employees, your employer can choose to fire you for your actions outside the office. In today’s world of social media, it can be easy to make inappropriate comments or posts or be tagged engaging in inappropriate behavior. Examples of inappropriate behavior can include disparaging your employer, sharing company secrets, or behaving in a belligerent manner. It can also include actions like moonlighting, holding a second job during your hours off from your main job. Generally, employers are justified in terminating employees whose behavior negatively impacts the company’s image or the individual employees’ ability to perform their job duties. This can include dating a colleague, which many employers view as a precursor to nepotism or can create a difficult atmosphere for others at the company.
To determine the actions for which you can be terminated and those for which you cannot, review state and federal laws about protected activities. You have the right to join or start a labor union. You also have the right to act as a whistleblower, an individual who exposes your company’s unethical or illegal practices.
What is a Wrongful Termination?
A wrongful termination is a termination that violates one or more laws that protect employees’ rights. An example of this is terminating an employee after he or she files a discrimination claim.
When a termination discriminates against an individual or a group, it is a wrongful termination. To illustrate this point, a company that only terminates black employees for smoking marijuana in their free time is acting discriminatingly.
At-Will vs. Contracted Employment
Whether you are an “at-will” or a contracted employee determines whether you can be fired for certain actions. Most American workers are at-will employees, which means that their employers can terminate them for any reason other than as an act of discrimination or retaliation. Contracted employees typically have more protection because their contracts state the circumstances under which they can be terminated. Terminating a contracted employee for a reason other than those specified in the contract is a breach of the contract for which the employee can seek compensation for his or her resulting damages.
Certain positions, typically those that require the employee to interact with the public and certain populations, such as children, have stricter requirements regarding employees’ outside behavior than others. For example, a teacher might face greater backlash for a disparaging social media post than a programmer would.