Getting fired can have lasting repercussions, both financially and professionally. Bills may go unpaid, and having left on such poor terms, securing a reference who will speak fondly of your tenure may be next to impossible. In a worst-case scenario, an employer cuts ties unexpectedly.
Some employees may detect dissatisfaction in their boss, as one-on-one meetings and warning emails send red flags regarding their job security. Others who lack self-awareness may have no clue what's coming. For both the alert and oblivious, here are some signs that you may soon get the professional axe.
Your boss views you as an irritant, not an asset. Having a conflict-ridden relationship with your boss is a leading indicator that your job is in jeopardy, according to Cynthia Shapiro, a former human resources executive and author of "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know - and What to Do About Them." "If you and your boss are oil and water, you have no job security," she says. "[It] doesn't matter how good you are at your job, doesn't matter how much money you make for the company ... If you're a thorn in your boss's side, [he or she] will get rid of you as soon as possible."
[Read: How to Fire Someone Compassionately.]
You get the universal cold shoulder. Having already made up his or her mind about your ouster, your boss becomes emotionally detached, says Monica Wofford, a leadership development expert and author of "Make Difficult People Disappear." "This is also why they stop being jovial, stop being chatty [and] stop talking about social attributes."
Meanwhile, colleagues privy to your fate and mindful of the drawbacks of being associated with a soon-to-be fired employee, cease making eye contact and offering invites to lunch and happy hour, Shapiro says.
Word about your negativity has spread. Routinely slamming the company, both in written and verbal form, has become one of your favorite pastimes. As a result, your utterances have caused your boss and colleagues to brand you as a Negative Nancy and a drain on company morale. Such employees, Shapiro says, are always prime targets for being fired.
You confirm your boss's worst perceptions. Your recent behavior does little to dispel entrenched notions your boss has developed. "When a boss labels an employee as a non-performer, [it] means that boss will then seek out actions, behaviors and demonstrations that validate the label they've given that employee," Wofford says. For example, if your boss is suspicious about your work ethic, he or she will look for episodes of laziness. If you turn in work late or pass on projects intended to help you grow as an employee, you've vindicated his or her opinion.
High profile projects no longer come your way. At one point, you were the go-to person for dealing with important clients and finishing major projects. But now your boss delegates prestigious assignments to other employees. "[He or she] is no longer willing to align themselves with you as a highly visible member of the team," Wofford says.
You're given a performance improvement plan. Months of mistakes or having a negative attitude has led your boss to treat you as a grade school student by tracking your performance on a daily or weekly basis. In creating a performance improvement plan, the company may set goals that are unattainable. In that case, it's "no longer invested in [an employee's] success or keeping them," Shapiro says.
Everyone else gets a raise but you. For months, you've stayed late or put in lengthy hours on the weekends. Yet your extra effort isn't being rewarded with a bump in pay. Meanwhile, your colleagues are ecstatic over their recent salary increases. "If you feel like you've been working hard and everyone else on your team is getting a raise, you're in trouble," Shapiro says. "That's the beginning of either being managed out or set up for termination."
The new hire learns all your responsibilities. Being on the chopping block may have nothing to do with performance or attitude. Instead, the company may want your services at a cheaper rate. Enter the new employee, who within weeks has learned everything you do. Ironically, you may have trained him or her. Shapiro puts it this way: "As soon as that person's trained, guess what happens to you?"
What are your legal options?
Whether you were expecting to be fired or not, you may wonder what legal recourse is available to you. When it comes to hashing the firing out in court, employers definitely have the upper hand, notes Steven Stern, a Philadelphia-based attorney who specializes in commercial and employment discrimination litigation.
All states except Montana abide by the at-will doctrine, which gives employers the ability to fire employees at any time for any reason. As Stern points out, "it doesn't have to be a good reason. It's only if a person fits into a protected class that they may be protected," he says. Those protected classes, as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which enforces federal discrimination laws, include race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.
If you don't fall into one of those categories but feel that you were wrongly terminated, there are other grounds to sue. For example, you may bring a case based on constructive discharge, which is when a worker is involuntarily forced to resign due to an employer creating a hostile or intolerable work environment. But constructive discharge is more difficult to prove than when an employee is actually discharged, Stern says. "You must show that any reasonable person in the same circumstances would leave their job because the conditions are so onerous."
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