Can I Be Fired for Admitting to My Boss I’m on the Job Market?

Question:

My boss just fired me for no reason.

I admit I wanted a new job, but I wasn’t ready to jump yet. I’d spent the weekend getting my resume ready and then decided I’d showcase myself on LinkedIn by removing my employer’s name from my profile.

I’d thought that was a subtle change, but when my boss saw my profile, it must have alerted him. He called me in to his office and asked me questions about a project I was working on. Then, just as I was leaving, he asked, “Are you looking for a new job?”

I felt cornered. His question took me by surprise. I hadn’t organized what to say if he somehow found out I was job hunting. I said, “No.”

My boss then pushed. He said he’d seen my LinkedIn profile. When he said that, I didn’t feel I had any place to go and so said, “Yes, I am.”

I expected him to ask, “How come?” or even, “What will it take to keep you here?” Instead, he said, “I can’t trust you.”

I was shocked. I asked, “what do you mean?” He then said, “What just happened is a good example. You float whatever story you think will satisfy me or protect you, and then if I push I find out the real story.”

He fired me, effective immediately, with two weeks’ pay.

I’d planned to leave, but under my own steam.

Do I have any recourse?

Answer: 

If your relationship with your boss had been good, he would most likely have said, “I want to keep you. What’s going on?”

The fact that he didn’t and instead pushed suggests that you and your boss didn’t have the best relationship.

Do you have recourse?

Four things work against you.

  1. The problems between and your boss may have been building for a long time. You’ve considered looking for a better or at least a different job. Your boss’s frustrations with you may have been building as well.
  2. Your job search activities signaled you wouldn’t be with your current employer for long. That will lead any employer to wonder how much to invest in a lame duck employee..
  3. You initially covered up the truth. If your boss says, “He’s lied once too often, a neutral party might decide that few employers would want a liar on their team.
  4. You likely work in an employment at will state. This means your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason, unless your employer violates public policy.

You may be able to find an attorney who can help you negotiate a larger severance based on that public policy issue.

Courts in many states, among them Alaska, Montana, Idaho, California, Delaware, Wyoming and New Hampshire, observe the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The good faith doctrine refers to the unwritten mutual promise that employers and employees treat each other fairly.

A lawyer might be able to argue, and a Court might agree, that your employer gave you a lose/lose choice when he called you on the carpet and interrogated you for job shopping. Had you initially been truthful with your response to his question ‘are you looking for a new job,’ your boss might have sent you packing. Thus, either a “yes” or “no” answer would cost you your job.

An attorney might also explore whether your termination for untruthfulness “was actually a pretext for firing you because you’ve engaged in a protected activity, such as protesting safety concerns, or other unlawful discrimination such as firing you because of your race, age, sex or membership in another protected class.

Although your case would likely not be strong enough to make it to trial, some employers, when challenged by an ex-employee’s attorney, throw money at the problem to end it.

My advice—move on.

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4 thoughts on “Can I Be Fired for Admitting to My Boss I’m on the Job Market?

  1. This happened to me once where I had accepted a job offer from a company that did not compete with my company, and when I gave my two weeks notice they fired me on the spot without any severance pay. I had been a good and reliable employee. What I learned from that is employers expect loyalty and they expect employees to give them notice, but they see no issue with not returning it. The firing felt punitive, like, “how dare you consider leaving us.” Meanwhile they had never given me a raise, they paid the men more than they paid the women, and they had recently let two other people in my department go in similar punitive fashion- one because she had scheduled a vacation 6 months previously that was coming up and they tried telling her she couldn’t go now and she didn’t want to change the dates since it was a vacation that comprised many members of her family- a once in a lifetime deal- and another because he had admitted he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay but he hadn’t begun looking yet. This person may have a case if her employer has a habit of popping people that they deem “disloyal” despite good work records.

  2. This person wasn’t fired for “no reason”. They lied to the boss. And it sounds like there were other times when they had been less than honest …. “You float whatever story you think will satisfy me or protect you, and then if I push I find out the real story.”
    Also removing their employer from linked in before they had a solid offer and had given notice in order to “showcase themselves” was not smart.
    Move on and learn from this is good advice here.

  3. Sue, great comments!
    And I believe you called it correctly on this gentleman. His pattern caught himself up.

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