Five Ways to Get Fired
Have you been searching for an easy way out of a dead end job? Has your employer failed to take the bait despite your best efforts to be an unreliable and under-performing employee? Are you sick and tired of blowing off work and neglecting your job duties to no avail? What's holding your supervisor back from handing you that pink slip? You may be the victim of a corporate employment attorney.
If your employer has an employment attorney on staff or on retainer, someone – your supervisor or the human resources person – is going to talk to that attorney before anybody gets fired. It's just good business practice. And that attorney is going to identify all sorts of reasons why firing the employee wouldn't be a good idea. Why? As a former corporate employment attorney, I can tell you we are risk-averse by nature and by necessity – it's our job, after all, to lay out all the risks of a particular course of action for our clients to evaluate before proceeding.
Just Cause for Discharge
A basic principle underlying most discharge decisions is that the employer must have "just cause" for firing the employee. This standard often is written into employment contracts and union agreements. Even in the absence of contract language, employment terminations are evaluated against some variation of the just cause standard in the context of unemployment compensation or wrongful discharge proceedings.
The definition of "just cause" varies from case to case, but typically the following seven tests are applied in determining whether an employer had just cause for firing an employee:
1. Did the employer adequately warn the employee of the consequences of the misconduct?
2. Was the employer's rule reasonably related to efficient and safe operations?
3. Did management investigate before firing the employee?
4. Was the investigation fair and objective?
5. Did the investigation produce substantial evidence of guilt?
6. Was the rule applied evenhandedly and without discrimination?
7. Was discharge reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the employee's past work record?
There may be any number of reasons why your employer's attorney views discharge as a risky action. There may have been insufficient documentation to support the discharge of a long-time employee for poor performance. There may have been other employees who engaged in similar or worse misconduct and didn't get fired. An employee with an otherwise excellent work record may deserve one last chance despite a single serious infraction. Under any of those scenarios, a good employment attorney will do her best to convince her client that a lesser penalty than discharge is warranted to avoid having the discharge overturned by a labor arbitrator or challenged in wrongful discharge litigation.
Attorneys are competitive. We don't like to lose. Bad facts make bad cases and we don't win bad cases. When an employer comes to us with a scenario that would create bad facts, we try to talk them out of it. That case would be a loser and we don't want any part of it. But give us a good set of facts and we'll run with it.
There were times my clients came to me with scenarios that caused me to shake my head. "Go ahead," I'd tell them without hesitation. "That person wants to be fired." I was never sure why someone would want to get fired. Maybe they were trying to evade a child support obligation or wage garnishment. Maybe they simply wanted out of the job and thought they would get unemployment benefits. If they didn't want to be fired, what they had done was stupid enough that they deserved to be, and no judge, arbitrator, or jury would see it any other way. Those were the situations I secretly hoped would end up in court. If the employee challenged the discharge decision, I'd have no trouble discrediting them on the stand with a masterful cross-examination. It would be an easy win for me, another notch in my belt, another war story to share around the legal department conference table.
So if you're looking for an easy way out of a dead-end job, make sure that whatever you do to get yourself fired will withstand the corporate employment attorney's scrutiny. Based on my experiences, I've compiled a list of five sure-fire ways to get yourself canned. If you do any of these things, I guarantee your employer's legal counsel will give the green light to proceed with discharge. You'll be given a box for your personal belongings and escorted to the door in no time at all.
1. Do something you were warned in writing not to do
This is the easiest of them all. You may not be fired the first time you spend the entire work day playing Farmville or perusing porn sites on the Internet. You may get a slap on the wrist for making photocopies of your privates on the office Xerox machine and sharing them with your co-workers. You may show up late to work every day for a month with impunity. But once you are given that piece of paper entitled "Written Warning" and advised that any future violation will be grounds for immediate termination of your employment, guess what? You will be fired the next time you do it. It's as simple as that.
When you receive a written warning, and that warning states specifically that further misconduct will be grounds for discharge, that's a pretty good clue your employer means business. Most likely, someone already has talked to the lawyer. The lawyer probably even helped draft the written warning, or at least reviewed it to make sure it contained all the right language to put your employer in a legally defensible position. When my clients came to me for advice about firing a problem employee, the first thing I asked is whether they already warned the employee about the consequences of the unfavorable conduct. If they hadn't, I'd send them back with the "magic language" to use in a warning letter and promise the next time they came to see me about that employee, we'd draft a termination letter.
2. Lie to cover up earlier misconduct
Failing to own up to and be accountable for your mistakes is always a good way to get on your employer's bad side. But why not take it a step further and engage in additional misconduct to conceal your earlier bad acts? Once you are found out – and you will be found out – blissful unemployment will be yours.
In one of my all time favorite cases, an employee (to whom I fondly refer as the Deerslayer) reported that he hit a deer while driving a company bucket truck, causing substantial damage to the truck. Not an unusual occurrence, for sure, as these things tend to happen in rural Iowa. The problem was that when a fleet department employee went to look at the truck, something didn't seem quite right. For one thing, the main damage was to the roof of the cab, underneath where the bucket sat in its retracted position. There also was a suspicious lack of deer DNA, as anyone who's ever hit a deer knows that its hair will find its way into any crack or crevice on the vehicle. Although the Deerslayer insisted upon further questioning that the damage was caused by a deer, it was clear he was lying.
This is where I got involved. I hired an accident reconstruction expert who examined the vehicle and determined the employee's story defied the laws of physics. The expert concluded the truck was damaged by something heavy falling from above when the bucket was extended. (The rumor was the employee had dropped a pallet of shingles onto the truck while using it to shingle a friend's roof.) Even worse, our expert found that additional damage to the windshield and front of the truck most likely had been caused by a hammer, meaning the employee had inflicted even more damage to try to make it look like a deer strike. We fired the Deerslayer and a labor arbitrator upheld the discharge decision.
The lesson here is if you want to get fired, don't come clean about your earlier misconduct. Better yet, commit additional wrongdoing to hide what you've done. Stick with your story even if it strains all plausibility. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you show some remorse for a gross lapse of judgment, your employer will be tempted to give you a second chance. Had the Deerslayer simply told the truth from the outset – that he damaged the truck while using it for some improper purpose – and thrown himself on the mercy of the company, he never would have been fired. Disciplined, yes. Given time off without pay, without a doubt. Fired, never. Don't let that happen to you.
3. Threaten bodily harm on your supervisor and co-workers
Nothing makes an employer more nervous than a threat of workplace violence. We've all heard the stories of disgruntled employees who one day snap and take out a few of their co-workers with them. It's horrible stuff, and no one wants it to happen at their place of employment. Yet it does. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, homicide is the third leading cause of workplace fatalities in America. Given the potential consequences, no employer is going to take a threat of violence lightly. Discharge is a legitimate and widely accepted employer response to such threats.
To ensure your threat of violence will be met with swift and severe action, don't limit yourself to vague and nonspecific comments about how you're so mad you could kick somebody's behind. Everyone has a bad day now and then, and this kind of off-the-cuff remark is more likely to result in a written warning than discharge, especially for a first offense. If you're looking for immediate results, it's much more effective to keep a list of those persons to whom you would like to do bodily harm, let everyone know you're keeping the list, and let people know when they move up a notch or two on it. It's also helpful to make comments about having a bullet with your supervisor's name on it and to display photos of your extensive gun collection. This technique really does work, as a client's former employee learned. Fortunately, the only thing he actually killed was his twenty-plus year career with the company.
4. Steal from your employer
Employers tend to look unfavorably on employees who steal from them, so getting fired for stealing would seem to be a sure bet. There are a few caveats. Labor arbitrators demand a higher standard of proof from employers to uphold a discharge for stealing. Unless the employer has clear evidence that the employee was stealing, arbitrators are reluctant to apply the label of "thief." Accordingly, if you choose this method as your means to unemployment, make sure there are witnesses, or at least have your pilfering captured on video. Take a lesson from one of my client's former employees who decided to steal some copper wire from the plant in the middle of the night. He astutely parked the getaway vehicle directly in front of a surveillance camera, ensuring his dismissal.
If the item you steal is of little value, an arbitrator may be more inclined towards leniency. So go big. Load up the company credit card with thousands of dollars of personal items, like another former employee who charged golf clubs, NASCAR tickets, expensive cigars, all sorts of things that couldn't possibly be deemed to have a business purpose. When you're caught, learn from the Deerslayer and don't admit to anything. Even if the item taken is relatively worthless, a labor arbitrator is more likely to uphold a discharge for theft if you maintain your innocence despite overwhelming evidence against you.
5. Put more effort into getting out of work than doing your job
Abusing your employer's leave policies is an effective way to ensure your eventual unemployment, although it may take more time to get results than the other methods I've listed here. In the interim, you'll have a lot of time off work, maybe even paid time off depending on how generous your employer's leave policies are.
Does your employer have a bereavement leave policy? Remember that most people have only two grandmothers, so the third time you request time off to attend your grandmother's out-of-state funeral, your employer may become suspicious and ask for proof. Once that happens, it's time to have some fun. Did you tell your supervisor you'd be traveling to Louisiana for the funeral? In that case, find a random obituary from Tennessee and see if your employer notices the discrepancy. Better yet, fax it from the Las Vegas hotel where you are mourning the death of your fake grandma to see how long it takes your employer to figure out the 702 area code from where the fax originated is in neither Louisiana nor Tennessee.
As an alternative, forge a doctor's note certifying your need for medical leave. This method is best if you have a distinctive style of writing – let's say you always dot your "i"s with little hearts – and make no effort to disguise your handwriting. Use a real doctor's name and phone number so your employer has someone to contact who will deny ever having seen you as a patient, much less completing paperwork excusing you from work for the rest of the year.
Maybe you don't mind coming to work each day until you're fired, but would rather spend your working hours goofing off or catching up on needed sleep than performing your job duties. The best option for you is to fill out paperwork showing you did the work without actually doing it. This is an especially effective method for losing your job if there's a regulatory requirement for your employer to maintain this paperwork. For example, if your job is to complete a pressure test on a gas line and your employer is required to keep records of all pressure tests, all you need to do is make up some test results and write them down. It's as simple as that. Once your employer figures out you haven't been doing the tests, you'll be fired. Just be patient; it may take an audit before your misdeeds come to light.
There you have it, my five ways to get fired. With just a little effort and ingenuity, you can give your employer a good reason to let you go and even the corporate employment attorney won't stand in the way.