Can you get fired without a written warning? (legally)

Updated on August 4, 2023
Can you get fired without a written warning

Are you worrying that things at work are looking less than rosy? Then, you’re probably wondering if you can get fired on the spot without warning.

In all states except Montana, you can be fired without a written warning due to 'at-will employment,' which allows employers to terminate workers without notice. The only exceptions are if the employee is fired for a discriminatory reason, or if they are fired in retaliation for exercising their legal rights.

Below, you can find more information about your rights and what happens if you lose your job out of the blue without prior knowledge.

In most cases, it is legal for a company to fire an employee without a warning, and even without a reason.

Engaged in at-will employment workers can be terminated at any time without notice, as long as any discrimination laws have not been breached by their employer.

Still, company owners in a number of states should be aware that they cannot fire their employees to avoid certain duties like paying them agreed employment benefits, for instance, whether for healthcare or retirement.

Also, it would be illegal in most states to fire an employee because they brought to light some illicit or dangerous-to-the-public company activities.

What happens if you get fired without warning?

If you get fired without warning and your boss has the right to do so, you can expect the following, provided you were not terminated with cause (ex: job abandonment, breach of company policies, or misconduct):

  • You may be offered severance pay;
  • You can claim unemployment benefits;
  • Ideally, the reasons behind losing your job should stay confidential.

Note that the above would be valid even if you got fired for poor work performance or another reason that doesn’t fall under the ‘with cause’ category.

Still, it’s worth noting that managers and company owners in the US are encouraged to have some termination policies put in place even if their employees are hired at will.

Whether we’re talking about a verbal warning or meeting with the underperforming worker to discuss a possible improvement course of action, employers are usually interested in keeping their staff’s morale high.

In other words, many employers would let their subordinates if their contract is about to be terminated and explain why.

What to do if you get fired without notice?

What to do if you get fired without notice

There are situations, where you can do something about it if you get fired with or without written notice, depending on your particular case.

You can file a wrongful termination claim if you believe that one of the following led to your job termination:

1. Breach of an employment contract.

In some industries, employment contracts are signed between the employer and the employee.

The agreement protects the employer and employee’s rights alike through clearly stipulated termination clauses, such as the requirement of written notice from both parties – when the employer terminates the agreement or the worker voluntarily leaves the job.

So, refer to your written contract or the company handbook (in the case of an implied contract) if you got fired without a written warning.

2. Violation of any EEOC laws.

Got fired without warning and discriminated against, due to your race, age, gender, religion, or any disability you might have? Then, the evidence of that can give you a fighting chance in court.

3. Workplace harassment.

It’s not uncommon for an employee to get fired because they were in a relationship with their superior that ended badly or because they did not accept their boss’s sexual advances.

Harassment at the workplace of any kind is prohibited by employment laws, so if you’ve lost your job, due to that, you can, again, file a wrongful termination claim.

4. Retaliation at the workplace.

You may lose your job without warning because you became a whistleblower of some sort of company misconduct and participated in protected practices.

Maybe, you reported your employer for any safety, minimum wage, or discrimination violations.

Or you assisted in a government investigation of the company’s illegal behavior and got fired on the basis of retaliation. Then, you could succeed in potential litigation.

5. Breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Finally, you may be fired without warning, where your boss violated an implied-in-law contract to avoid their duties and thus, treated you unfairly.

Did you get terminated just before you were about to retire? Or has your employer let you go so that they don’t pay you due healthcare insurance benefits? Your option will be to pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit for being fired unfairly.

When can you be terminated without warning?

When can you be terminated without warning

You could be terminated without warning if you did not sign a written employment contract. This means that you were engaged in at-will employment.

On that note, Montana is the only state, where at-will employment law does not apply after a probation period of 6 months.

So, if you live and/or work in this state, usually, you cannot be terminated on the spot.

Also, you can be fired without warning if your job position at the company is not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Many industries have formed unions, which protect employees’ rights, including termination rights.

Can you be fired without warning on probation?

You can be fired without warning while on probation if you’re an at-will employee. Probationary periods are not covered by federal laws, so relevant rules vary from state to state.

It’s good to point out here that probation periods are not only used for new employees. For example, a poorly performing worker can be put on probation to improve.

So, in that sense, the probationary period acts as a kind of warning and last chance for the employee to prove that they are fit for the job.

In such cases, again, one can be fired at any time during the probationary period, although it is a good practice for the termination to become into effect at the end of the probation.

It’s another matter, however, if the employer uses probation to harass a worker and continuously places them on probation for no valid reason until they fire them.

If this has happened to you, you may have a case to file a wrongful termination claim.

In addition, employees, considered for promotion, can also be placed on probation to evaluate their skills for the higher job position.

In this scenario, failure to pass the assessment would not commonly lead to job termination. The employee would simply not get promoted at the end of the probationary period.

Frequently asked questions about termination without notice

What is the difference between "at-will employment" and a contract with a termination clause?

At-will employment allows termination without notice or reason, while a contract with a termination clause specifies conditions under which an employee can be terminated.

Are there any federal laws that override state at-will employment laws?

Federal laws like anti-discrimination statutes may override state at-will laws, but generally, state laws govern at-will employment unless they conflict with federal protections.

What are the responsibilities of an employer when terminating an employee without warning?

Employers must comply with federal and state laws, ensuring that termination is not discriminatory or retaliatory. They may also have obligations related to severance pay or benefits.

How does at-will employment affect unemployment benefits?

At-will termination usually allows for unemployment benefits unless the termination was for misconduct or other disqualifying reasons defined by state law.

Written by:
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Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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