Can you legally get fired for looking for another job?

Updated on August 9, 2023
Can you get fired for looking for another job

Getting fired because you are looking for another job is absolutely possible. In the USA, over 70% of workers are engaged in at-will employment. If you fall in this category, this means that your boss can let you go at any time and for any reason, including searching for other job opportunities.

Here we take a look at all the points you need to consider when looking for another job while being employed. You will also find some useful tips on how to approach this and protect your interests.

Can you legally get fired for looking for another job?

Can you legally get fired for looking for another job

To explore the law-related side of things further, you can legally get fired for looking for another job position at a different organization, especially if you got caught red-handed searching for better employment options while on company time.

Your boss will also have a solid reason to let you go, should they find irrefutable evidence of this.

Therefore, your superior would not be breaking the law if they dismissed you for looking for a job, whether openly or on the sly.

Still, it is less likely for your employer to part with you solely on the basis of unproved rumors that you might be looking to resign in the near future.

Is it illegal to look for another job while employed?

It is not illegal to look for another job while employed. Employees would do this if they are dissatisfied with their job. Workers in at-will employment are not bound by any major restrictions when it comes to quitting a job because of a far more attractive offer or for whatever reason.

It is actually relatively common for an employee to play it safe and try to first secure a better job before giving their notice to their present employer.

To sum up, it is not against the law to search for a job and attend interviews while employed elsewhere.

In the same way, it is not illegal for your boss to fire you over the fact that you’ve been looking for new employment opportunities during official work hours.

Is looking for another job considered misconduct?

Looking for another job while employed is not misconduct. But it can be deemed misconduct to engage in activities during work hours extraneous to your job responsibilities.

And applying for jobs or partaking in phone interviews while at the office falls into this category.

Moreover, this would not only be considered improper behavior by your current employer, but it can also be in breach of company policy. So, make sure you chase that dream new job in your own time.

Can an employer fire you for looking for another job?

Your employer can fire you for looking for another job, but there are some exceptions. Suppose you’re covered by a union employment agreement or you’ve signed an individual contract with specific employment protection clauses. In that case, you may be safeguarded against being fired.

In addition, those employed in the public sector are also protected against dismissal without a solid reason.

Furthermore, several states have put some limitations in place with respect to some employment protection rights, even if they have embraced the at-will employment legislation, recognized in fact by all states, apart from Montana.

So, even though state laws don’t supersede federal laws, it’s worth referring to the labor rights legislation specific to your respective state.

When can you get fired for looking for another job while at work?

You can get fired for looking for another job when your boss suspects you of job hunting because you:

  • Take unusually excessive time off (to attend interviews, for example);
  • Come late for work or leave early (to go to meetings with recruiters);
  • Suddenly start coming to work in a suit while the dress code in your company is less formal;
  • Use your work email to apply for jobs and got caught;
  • Make the mistake to list your boss as a reference to a potential employer, and the latter acts on it (i. e. calling your current superior);
  • Confide in jealous coworkers that you are on a job hunt, and they spread the news;
  • Unwittingly share on social media that you’re after a new job (and your boss spots the posts).

In most cases, it is better to quit your job voluntarily than to be fired. It is good to point out here that even in at-will employment states, you can’t get fired for reasons that are protected by EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).

This doesn’t mean, however, that you can easily accuse your boss of discrimination because of your ethnicity, for instance, but they fire you for looking for another job while at work.

Can you be fired for letting your boss know you are looking for another job?

Can you be fired for letting your boss know you are looking for another job

If you let your boss know that you’re presently looking for another job, there are usually 3 common scenarios to envisage:

  1. Your insecure manager angrily fires you on the spot or advises you that they’re taking this piece of information as your resignation notice.
  2. Your boss is mature enough to wish you luck in your future career development and let you stay on until you get a better offer.
  3. Your employer considers you as being an invaluable member of their team and decides to negotiate your job conditions and pay.

Believe it or not, some entry-level employees are often encouraged by their understanding superior to progress their career elsewhere after a year or two.

On the other hand, beware that you might live in a state that recognizes non-compete agreements (if you’ve signed one) for the industry sector you’ve been working in.

Then, your employer has every reason to fire you if you’re applying for jobs with competitors and use the non-compete clause in your contract later on.

What to do if your boss asks if you're looking for another job?

What to do if your boss asks if you're looking for another job

Right then, your boss comes to you and directly asks you if you’re looking for another job. How do you answer that?

“No” would be the first thing that comes to mind but hold your horses. Don’t outright lie about this! After all, you may need your boss to be your reference one day.

Of course, you don’t want to get into trouble and lose your job before you’ve actually secured a new job position.

But it’s best to be honest with your employer, even if you have to answer them a bit evasively at first. After all, they may be in the know that you’re job hunting and have solid evidence.

You better be open with your boss, especially if you already have another job offer, and show you have some integrity by mentioning that you’d like a career change or you’ll be moving out of state soon.

Basically, give them reasons they can’t hold against you regarding your decision to leave.

Or if you feel that you have a chance to leverage and negotiate your current position, be totally sincere and have that honest conversation by requesting to arrange a career-development meeting with your manager.

Can you get unemployment if you are fired for looking for another job?

You can get unemployment if you are fired for simply considering a change of jobs. You can’t claim unemployment, though, if you got dismissed for a solid reason or “with cause”, like poor performance or misconduct at work.

And remember that we’ve discussed misconduct already? Like getting caught searching and applying for jobs while on the clock?

Playing sick or using paid company time to attend job interviews will land you a fair dismissal, which will result in failure to claim unemployment afterward.

And know that you can’t usually get unemployment if you quit your job or you start another job straight after you lost your old one.

Written by:
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galin office topics square
co-founder / office worker
Galin has been an office worker for 8+ years. He has dealt will all kinds of situations at work, so he knows a thing or two about management, co-worker relationships, and productivity. Galin specializes in digital marketing and dabbles in web development.

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