Most of the states in the U.S. operate under an at-will employment policy — unless you're a member of a federally protected class, you can be fired for any reason. It may surprise you what a company could fire you for.
Most of the states in the U.S. exercise at-will employment rules. That is, a company can fire an employee for any reason, unless the issue at hand is protected by law, like gender, race, religion, national origin, or disability. (Currently, Montana and Arizona seem to be the only states not practicing at-will.)
This means that it could be legal for your employer to fire you over your political leanings. And that's not the only area. In a piece for Yahoo! HotJobs, Larry Buhl writes about five key areas where a company may scrutinize. According to Buhl, they are:
- Smoking, drinking, and overeating. Due to the cost of health insurance, more and more employers view "unhealthy" habits as a threat to their bottom line.
- Risky behavior. Likewise, a company might see your bungee jumping hobby as a liability.
- Speech. Will your employer consider your blogging to be destructive griping?
- Romantic relationships. Dating someone at a competitor's company has landed employees in hot water. And some employers might take issue with unmarried coupling or even same-sex relationships (federal law doesn't protect employees from discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation).
- Political activity. Volunteering for Obama could be trouble if you have a pro-McCain boss, and vice versa.
Union members and employees in the public (government) sector are generally more protected, but private sector employees — the majority of the U.S. workforce — can be fired at any time.
Buhl provides tips from legal experts for protecting your job from unexpected dangers:
- Understand the concept of at-will employment. Don't assume that termination must be illegal just because you think it was unfair.
- Be fully aware of your company's policies and terms of employment. Read the employee handbook, and ask HR if you have any questions.
- Be familiar with the company's internal dispute mechanisms (if any) for filing grievances.
- Think before you act. Could your employer see your actions off the job as potentially destructive to the company?
- Don't disclose. "You don't have to disclose lifestyle choices or off-the-clock activities unless there is a clear link to your ability to perform the job," Paul Secunda said.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.