Getting Fired

Q: For what reasons can you be fired?

A: Usually, you can be fired for just about any reason (or no reason) at all. The normal rule in Pennsylvania is “employment-at-will”. That means that most of us can be fired for just about any reason. Most of us can be fired because our boss doesn’t like us, or because it is raining outside. However, if you have an employment contract, your employer may be able to fire you only for specific reasons. For instance, government employees and union employees can usually be fired only “for cause”. If you have an employment contract, you must examine it closely to determine if it limits the reasons for which you can be fired.

Q: Are there any reasons for which you can’t be fired or disciplined?

A: Yes. Laws have been passed making it illegal to fire an employee for certain reasons. Even if you don’t have an employment contract, you probably can’t be fired because of your:
Race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, retaliation, or disability. (43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 951, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, 29 U.S.C. § 621, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, TItle VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964)
Jury Service (42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4563, 28 U.S.C. § 1875)
Military Service (51 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7301, 38 U.S.C. § 4301)
Unionizing activities (29 U.S.C. § 151)
Bankruptcy (28 U.S.C. § 525)

Q: Does your boss need to give you notice before firing you?

A: Probably not. Normally, employers do not need to give any notice before firing you. Again, if you have an employment contract, you’ll have to examine it closely to determine if there are any notice provisions.

Q: Do you have to give two weeks notice before quitting?

A: No. The employment-at-will rule works both ways. Your boss can fire you for any reason without notice, and you can quit for any reason without notice. However, if you have an employment contract, you should examine it carefully to see if you will lose any benefits if you quit without giving notice. Also, if you want a good reference from your boss, you may want to give a reasonable amount of notice.

Q: What can you do to protect yourself in case you are fired?

A: Document everything. If you are fired, and your former employer disputes an unemployment compensation claim, you’ll have to prove that you were not fired because of your misconduct. To make your case stronger, you should document everything important that happens at work. For instance, you should keep all performance evaluations, a record of all salary changes, and even a dated record of all informal comments about your performance that your boss makes. Make sure you have a copy of the employee handbook. In Pennsylvania, you have a right to inspect your personnel file (43 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1321). If you fear that you may be fired, ask to see your personnel file. If your boss won’t let you copy it, take notes to remind yourself of exactly what is in your file.

Q: You think you’re going to be fired. Should you quit to protect your work history?

A: Probably not. Unless you have another job lined up, you probably shouldn’t quit your current job. Quitting may make it more difficult to get unemployment compensation than if you are fired. In addition, if you receive public assistance, your benefits may be reduced for quitting a job. Furthermore, if you are under a court order to pay child support, the judge will probably refuse to reduce your support obligation because you quit your job (231 Pa. Code § 1910.12(d)(1)).