Can You Be Fired for Looking for Another Job?

Small Business - February 23, 2022
Woman fired from job carrying box of her belongings

Can you be fired for interviewing around?

Are you looking for a new job right now?

In the midst of The Great Resignation (or “Big Quit”), you’re far from alone. Millions of Americans are in search of a better job fit, and COVID-19 has prompted many to make changes. According to studies, 65% of working Americans are actively searching for a new full-time job right now.

What do you do if you already have a full-time job but are interviewing elsewhere? If your employer found out, could you get fired?

The short answer is yes. In an at-will state, your employer can fire you for any reason and at any time (with exceptions). So yes, they have the right to fire you for the sole reason that you’re looking for a new job.

At-will employment states

Currently, all 50 states are at-will employment states, meaning employers can fire employees for any reason that’s unprotected from EEOC laws without notice.

However, most states have exceptions. For example, 42 states and Washington, D.C., have a public policy exception in place, which prohibits an employer from firing an employee if it violates the state’s public policy doctrine or a state or federal statute. There are also implied contract exceptions and “implied-in-law” contract exceptions.

While your boss has the right to fire you for looking for another job, it’s uncommon to do so because terminated employees may have a right to certain benefits. Employees who leave on their own won’t have access to those benefits.

Non-compete agreements

When you filled out all that lengthy paperwork upon starting your job, did a non-compete agreement pop up in the pile of papers? It’s possible you signed one on your first day.

A non-compete specifies that employees cannot enter competition with the employer after the employment has ended for a specified period of time. So, it bars employees from working for a competitor right after their employment has ended.

Again, this type of legal agreement is a state-by-state situation and may be unenforceable in your state.

Non-compete agreements can limit an employee’s options in the future, so if an employer wants to put one in place, the specifications must be reasonable under court approval.

For example, the court ensures that the time period requirements are not too limiting, conditions apply to a specific geographic location, and it qualifies as a reasonable definition of what counts as competition.

Can your employer ask if you are job hunting?

Of course they can! And be prepared because they may take it personally and fire you.

This is why it’s probably best to interview discreetly and make sure your job hunting process doesn’t take any time or energy away from your current full-time job.

Do not use your work time to go shopping for other jobs. You should only use your scheduled PTO for interview days and avoid applying to positions while on the clock – do so on your own time.

Learn more about your employment rights

Employment laws can be confusing and often vary from state to state. To learn more about your rights as an employee or employer, talk to a seasoned work rights lawyer who understands the laws in your area.

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