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RobertJDFL, Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 13898
Experience:  Experienced in multiple areas of the law.
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If someone fires you for reasons that hurt your reputation

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If someone fires you for reasons that hurt your reputation such as theft, bribery & kickbacks and they are not true, do they have to give you something in writing telling you why your employment has been terminated? And if I am terminated because of something my superior told me to do, can I be fired for that reason?
Thank you for your question this evening.

An employer is not required to provide any type of documentation or something in writing explaning why you were terminated. Absent an employment contract (which are pretty rare) or a union agreement, which may give you more rights on the job, most every state follows the practice of "employment at will" (Montana has a modified version of this, but all other states have true at will employment). What at will employment means is that an employer can terminate you at any time, for any reason, with or without cause, so long as it is not an unlawful reason (e.g., you cannot be fired for things like your race, sex, or religion, or if you refused to break the law while doing your job). So, even if an employer tells you to do something, and then fires you for that same reason - yes, sadly, that would be legal.

Now, if an employer makes false statements about you to a third party or parties, such as saying you stole at work or something similar, and you have suffered damages as a result, then you may actually have a basis for bringing a suit for defamation of character against them. Defamation cases are hard though, so that is definitely something that you would want to discuss further with a local attorney.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Okay, then how can I be denied unemployment? If I am fired for a reason that is my fault, as it would be since my employer is stating theft, then I am not qualified for unemployment. Doesn't he have to prove that insome way? Isn't that defammation of character? Just being fired alone will put me out of the industry that I work in.

The reason you can be denied unemployment is because theft is considered misconduct which makes a person ineligible for benefits. If you were initially denied, you can request an unemployment hearing. At such a hearing, when a discharge has taken place, the employer bears the burden of establishing that the discharge was for misconduct. If they cannot establish that, then you prevail.

Accusing a person of theft where it isn't true and that false statement or statements was/where made to a third party or parties can be considered defamation of character, yes, which is why I said you may have grounds for a lawsuit. You would still have to prove as a plaintiff that the employer made a false statement/statements, to a third person/persons, and that you suffered damages as a result.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

So a company can fire me for any reason they want. If they use the excuse of theft and I file for unemplyment they will at first deny my claim due to my theft and then I would have to ask for a hearing at which time I would have to argue my case and they would give theirs. I would then have to wait for the unemployment board to rule before I would be able to collect any monies due to me for unemployment? Then, once it is ruled, as long as they haven't told anyone that I was being fired for theft then they would be scott free from any wrongdoing?

Thank you for your reply.

At will employment means an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason, yes, so long as it is not unlawful, or even no reason at all - just because the employer feels like it.

At an unemployment hearing, the employer has the burden of proof as I stated above - not you. If they are alleging misconduct due to theft as the reason for your termination, then that is what they must prove. If they fail to meet this burden, then you win.

Defamation of character has 3 elements a plaintiff must be able to successfully prove:

1) An employer at least negligently, if not intentionally, made a false statement (either verbally or in writing) about them;

2) To a third person or persons;

3) Which resulted in damages to plaintiff.

If the only person the employer ever made the false statement(s) to was the plaintiff, that does not establish defamation, because no one else knew what was said.

Now, if an employer is going to tell unemployment that you were fired for theft, and that isn't true, well, then they already have made that false statement to others. Similarly. if they were to tell prospective other employers who called your old employer for a reference that you were fired for theft, that too meets the second element of defamation.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

well you know these arent the answers I wanted tohear but I will still rate you well so that you will be paid. I just signed up for the service of unlimited questions. Should I continue with you or should I continue my questions with the service? I understand you only get paid once now that i have joined so its up to you

I realize it's not what you wanted to hear (I don't enjoy giving bad news), but I would be doing you a disservice if I told you something that wasn't true. I appreciate you understanding.

Since I'm not always on the site, I would say just post new questions so that they are made available to any experts currently online, which gives you the best chance of getting a prompt reply.

Best regards.
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