The pandemic led to many Americans reconsidering their relationship with jobs, triggering the “quiet quitting” movement, although plenty of workers have done this for ages. It essentially refers to doing the bare minimum at work. But employers are retaliating with “quiet firing” to rid their offices of such employees.
Both quiet quitting and quiet firing have allowed a toxic culture of manipulation, guilt-tripping, and boundary violation to emerge. This post will examine what’s legally allowed regarding work responsibilities and firings, and when it is and isn’t acceptable to fire an employee under these circumstances. We’ll also discuss how an employment law attorney can help you protect your legal rights.
Quiet quitting versus quiet firing
Quiet quitting is commonly understood to mean employees intentionally prioritizing the bare minimum work requirements and not going above and beyond—no overtime, no additional responsibilities/projects, at least not without additional monetary compensation or growth promises. This behavior can be credited to various factors:
- realigned priorities and changed perceptions about how the work fits into their goals;
- dissatisfaction with the financial compensation compared to the workload;
- feeling underappreciated or burnt out with overwork;
- juggling between hybrid and remote work;
- toxic work environment;
- work duties not meeting ideal work-life balance expectations.
As a direct response to quiet quitting, quiet firing is taking the workplace by storm wherein employers subtly compel the workers to quit, instead of directly firing them. They may do so by creating a hostile work environment — not offering monetary hikes or promotions over a prolonged period, shifting responsibilities toward tasks that require less experience, increasing workloads to an unmanageable level, or deliberate withdrawal of development and leadership opportunities.
Firings: What’s legally acceptable
Every state in the United States except Montana has adopted an at-will employment policy that lets employers fire an employee at any time for any reason as long as it doesn’t break federal or state employment laws. The employer doesn’t have to give you notice or severance pay if they have a good reason or “just cause” to fire you.
That means you can be fired anytime for poor performance or not meeting set goals. However, you may be exempt from at-will status under the following circumstances:
- You have an employment contract that in some way exempts you from being fired solely for poor performance;
- you work in the public sector;
- you’re part of a union that has a collective contract;
- you take action protected by public policy, such as whistleblowing or reporting unsafe or illegal activity;
- there’s a breach of contract by the employer.
When is it illegal to fire an employee?
Where an employment contract requires termination only for cause, a terminated employee can sue for arbitrary discharge. In such a situation, it’s illegal to be fired if you’re meeting all the work expectations, goals, and objectives set as per the employment contract.
The firing is also not acceptable by law if it appears to be discriminatory or without warning or investigation. Several federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate against and terminate an employee based on that person belonging to a protected category, such as their race, religion, color, sex, gender, national origin, age, or disability.
Where does the real problem lie?
The real problem may not be so much with quiet quitting—workers establishing boundaries and doing exactly what is outlined in their job description—but with bosses creating such demoralizing workplaces that employees feel like they have no choice but to quit. There’s no law that says you can be dismissed if you quietly quit, so far as you maintain a certain standard of performance.
It’s also illegal to force you to quit the job for not meeting work standards if your employer purposely changed the employment terms unrealistically and without prior notice—new sales quota with unreasonable standards, a major change in work hours, unnecessary work pressure, etc.
Call an employment lawyer if wrongfully terminated
Seek legal help If your employer forced you to quit in any way that’s prohibited under human rights legislation, such as disability, age, race, sex, or sexual orientation. Resigning from a job must be a voluntary act and you have to come to the decision on your own. If this isn’t the case, an employment law attorney can help you make a strong case that your employer breached a fundamental term of the employment contract.
Can I sue my employer for forced firing? The answer is yes, absolutely. If you resigned because an employer intentionally forced you to quit by creating intolerable work conditions or by any sort of discrimination, seek help from a wrongful termination lawyer.
Do you feel you were wrongfully terminated and are exploring legal options to start seeking justice and compensation? Complete your free online employment case evaluation now with LegalASAP! We can take your wrongful dismissal case to trial and obtain the fair amount for severance pay in addition to other damages you are entitled to.