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7 Ways Your Employer Can Take Away Your Job Legally

Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.

Your employer can take away your livelihood despite your loyalty and good performance.

Your employer can take away your livelihood despite your loyalty and good performance.

Being told by your employer that they are letting you go is a heartbreaking moment. Especially when you have been a top performer, hardly taking any time off, and have been loyal to the company for a long time, having your job taken away from you for reasons beyond your control is excruciating. And yet, it can happen at any time, especially in the private sector.

There are legal ways to fire people that take no account of job performance. The law, whether in most countries or the country where I’m from (The Philippines), allows for some flexibility in terms of legally separating employees. The degree of flexibility may vary among countries, and some countries, such as the United States, are notorious for giving too much flexibility, while others, such as New Zealand, tend to be pro-employee.

For the purpose of this article, just causes for termination will not be included in the enumeration. This means that mainly authorized causes—justifications for which the employee usually doesn’t have any control over—will make up the bulk of the list. Without further ado, here are seven ways your employer can take away your job legally.

1. Not Letting You Pass Your Probationary Period

Whether you pass your probationary period or not is a fact ultimately determined by your employer. In the Philippines, the probationary period is six months, and the employer has the discretion to shorten, extend, or waive this trial run. The trial period could be longer for other countries, and there are some who don’t allow for this arrangement at all.

You could be hitting your stride, exceeding expectations during your probationary period, but if your employer doesn’t like you—or has plans for removing your job eventually (or worse, was really just needing you for six months and never planned on bringing you on long term)—he will find some metric which you didn’t hit and will use that as a basis for not letting you pass.

But when you think about it, it’s a good thing they let you go that early than keep having you around while having plans to fire you in the future. It’s a red flag when an employer will use the probationary period as a means to keep fishing for talent and not placing someone long-term. It saves on costs, and when need be, the company can easily cut expenses to look good on the balance sheet.

2. Having a Persisting Health Condition

In the Philippines, the Labor Code allows for an employer to legally terminate someone on a persisting health condition that lasts for more than six months. Your employer must tread carefully, though, as several laws protect the employee from being discriminated against on the basis of health.

Having a health condition that would not allow you to carry out your job is itself another legal basis for validly taking away your job. Having a health condition or illness that lasts for some time is sometimes out of your control, and unfortunately, it counts as a legal means to let you go.

3. Redundancy

Wouldn’t it just outrage you when you find out that there’s a posting by your company on an online job board for a position that suspiciously sounds a lot like yours but just worded differently? And to make matters worse, you click on the job posting, and you find out that the pay being offered is lower than your existing pay. You check to see if the job is for another possible company location—but no, unfortunately, the job is for the same office as you currently report to. And that’s when it hits you—your employer is trying to look for a cheaper replacement for you.

Employers can be so upfront at how they carry this out—they even let the existing job holder train their own replacement. They can be subtle, such as when they temporarily ‘reassign’ the replacement to another office or branch, only to bring them on once the costlier employee has been legally separated.

Whichever way they may carry out the separation of an employee due to the legal ground of redundancy, it is perhaps one of the cruelest ways to get rid of someone. It not only sends the message that they no longer need you, but also that they managed to find someone as good, if not better, than you for a cheaper cost.

4. Downsizing

Downsizing is one of the authorized causes for letting people go. It’s one of the most common justifications for carrying out mass layoffs. It’s very commonly used among employers big and small around the world. In order to keep expenses low and be able to hit income targets, companies resort to downsizing. Downsizing was the very subject of the first few seasons of The Office, and it was clear in that TV sitcom that even just rumors of downsizing cast a dark cloud over an entire work environment.

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Your employer can let you go legally through downsizing if you happen to be one of the unlucky people who get laid off. There are some legal protections for the employee, such as the WARN Act in the United States, which requires a two-month notice to employees from the employer if the company employs a hundred people or more.

5. Installing a Labor-Saving Device

A labor-saving device simply means something that’s able to save time and effort. The requirements for installing a labor-saving device as a legal ground to fire an employee may vary depending on a country’s labor regulations, but in the Philippine context there are five requisites:

  1. There’s an introduction of machinery, equipment, or other devices;
  2. The introduction is done in good faith;
  3. The purpose for the introduction must be valid such as to save on cost, enhance efficiency, and other justifiable economic reasons;
  4. There’s no other option available to the employer than the introduction of machinery, equipment, or device and the consequent termination of employment of those affected; and
  5. There must be fair and reasonable criteria in selecting employees to be terminated.

Thankfully, the labor system in the Philippines is a little strict to prevent abuses, thanks to persistent legal advocates who have promoted workers’ rights. But I don’t know how malleable the rules are in other jurisdictions in terms of removing an employee due to labor-saving. The installation of labor-saving devices tells you as a current employee that one day, if you’re not careful enough—especially when you don’t work on building skills that are hard to automate—you can and will be let go.

6. Closing or Stopping Business Operations

We come to the most logical reason for employers taking away your job that takes no account of your performance. It may be logical to think that companies lay workers off due to closing shop, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always justified. Because ‘closing shop’ as a legal ground to terminate employment is also something that’s easily abused by companies, especially by those that belong to a conglomerate.

Companies can one day stop their business operations and fire everyone, but a few weeks or months later resurface under a different company name. Then that company does the same exact thing the previous company did, only with new hires who are less costly to employ plus busted unions if there were ever any inside the previous company that closed down.

And what happens to you then? I won’t be surprised if the new company tries to recruit you as a new hire with lower pay than what you previously earned, under either a probationary or contractual basis, and make you start all over again.

7. Getting Bought Out

Last but not least—getting bought out or acquired, merged, dissolved (whichever the accurate business term) is perhaps the most shocking way to lose a job. In the world of capitalism, mergers and acquisitions are normally kept hush-hush because of all the confidentiality they demand. That means that for better or for worse, and usually, when nobody outside the top company executives’ conference room has any clue, you can lose your job when your company restructures itself due to being bought out by or joined to another company.

The company usually tries to sell the idea of mergers as something to celebrate because they paint it under the light of “growing the family.” But behind it all is the very likelihood that some portions of the new organization will become redundant.

Once again, I point to The Office for showing a pretty good example of how mergers go, despite the show being a sitcom full of parodies. When the Stamford branch was joined to the Scranton branch, some people from the Stamford branch were immediately let go while the ones who remained were forcefully being integrated into the Scranton Branch.

It didn’t take too many episodes before some of the remaining Stamford employees were let go, and fast-forward to the end of the season, only two Stamford employees remained. Fast-forward even further, only Andy remained from that closed branch—who served as a remnant of the closed branch until most fans forgot there even was a Stamford branch in the first place.

Do You Always Have to Fear Losing Your Job?

My intention in writing this article was not to keep the reader in constant fear of losing his or her job. It was simply to provide awareness that companies will do anything they can to look good to the market and to investors. If a company is perceived as spending too much on employees’ salaries and benefits, then logically, the CFO or someone under him will look for a part of the workforce to cut out. And that’s when it all comes down to luck.

You shouldn’t always have to fear losing your job. Instead, be prepared by investing your time wisely in other possible income-generating efforts. Whether it’s putting your money in stocks or trying to establish an online business, the important thing is to start somewhere. I hope this article was helpful to you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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