Work & Career
10 “Innocent” Things You Didn’t Know Could Get You Fired
Some employment don’ts are obvious, but these seemingly innocuous behaviors could also cost you your job.
Getting frisky at work
OK, so maybe this one is not so innocent, but many people get romantically involved with coworkers, and occasionally get carried away during office hours. Unless you’re a Grey’s Anatomy cast member, this is a big-time no-no. “Most of the firings I’ve had to conduct have been for performance-related issues, but once, I had to let two hourly employees go, who were having sex on site and on the clock. They were both married, but not to each other,” says Evelyn Magioros Snow, a human resources manager. Many companies have established no-dating policies for coworkers, clients, and board members, but even for those that don’t, pursuing your passion on the premises could lead to a pink slip or worse—getting fired. Here are the 13 things HR won’t tell you about keeping your job.
Say ho, ho, ho instead of no, no
Gift giving, and receiving, is a big part of holiday fun, but accepting a gift from a vendor or client is frowned upon at many companies. If you work for a political organization or publicly held corporation, this practice is almost guaranteed to cost you your employment. “At two corporations that I manage human relations for, one employee received a warning, and another one got fired because they accepted holiday gifts from vendors,” says David Lewis, president, CEO and founder of OperationsInc, a human resources consulting firm. “In one instance, this practice was an unwritten rule. In the other, it was a documented rule, included in the employee handbook.” The reason for this practice is obvious—your employer wants you to be beyond reproach, should anyone ever question your professional actions. Getting presents from vendors or clients may appear to unfairly influence your decisions. (Don’t miss these 14 secret signs that you’re getting fired.)
Being too perky
Company perks are meant to show employees how much they are valued, but if you take advantage, you might find yourself getting fired. “If someone is fired for reasons that don’t relate to job performance, it often represents an integrity breach. For instance, an employee lied about something, they were abusing a company privilege, or taking advantage of a company perk, for personal use,” says Juli Smith, president of Smith Consulting Group, LLC. For example, it’s great that your company has on-site yoga, but don’t overindulge by spending four out of every eight working hours doing sun salutations. The same holds true for other corporate perks, like expense accounts and miles. “It’s common for large companies to allow employees to use the miles they accrue on business trips for their own use, but if you’re building in extra travel time on the company’s dime in the hopes of financing your next vacation, that’s more likely to get you a trip to the unemployment line than to Hawaii,” says Ali Brooks, a hospital administrator who has fired an employee for that reason.
“A good rule to go by: Do you want that spider tattoo on your neck more than you want the job?” says Mackenzie Kyle, regional managing partner for MNP, an accounting and consulting firm. Most firms have a stated or implicit dress code. The way you’re expected to look at a conservative law firm is probably quite different than the way you can dress, say, in a creative fashion business where you’re expected to dress in the latest styles. Matching your look to your position can help you blend in at work and move up the corporate ladder. Sticking out by dressing very differently than your coworkers, is more likely to get you moved out the door. Make sure you always do these 10 things on your last day at work.
Changing your looks
Maybe you’ve gained a few pounds, lost a few hairs or decided to grow a full lumberjack beard and mustache. “Based on your role, you might get fired if the company feels that you’re failing to meet the requirements of the position. This could include what you look like,” says Lewis. If you were hired to be a front desk greeter or restaurant host and suddenly you’re wearing sweatpants and forgetting to shower, you might get fired, and possibly never learn the real reason why. “A lot of motives behind terminations are not clearly communicated for legal reasons,” Lewis says. “Most companies find ways to bury the truth and use other excuses. Poor hygiene also falls into this category, issues like bad breath or body odor.” To keep your job, make at least a modicum of effort to maintain your hygiene and look groomed. It also helps to keep a smile on your face.
Many employers look to terminate older employees in the hopes of hiring a less-expensive replacement. Age discrimination is illegal, however, and many aged-out employees fight back. According to Forbes, age discrimination complaints have skyrocketed in recent years. One way to avoid getting fired based on age discrimination is to simply know your own worth. You have the right to age gracefully and not lose your job. Here are other ways to identify whether you were fired illegally or not.
Not matching the corporate culture
Most companies have a value system in place, even if it isn’t stated. Sometimes it has to do with politics. Other times, it’s focused on local issues, or a personal ideology, which filters down from the top. “I had a coworker who lost her job because of her Christmas card,” says realtor Suzanne Friedman. “We worked for an animal-rights activist who was also a vegetarian. Even though our company had nothing to do with animal rights, most of the people who worked there shared a common love of animals. My friend hid that she was married to a hunter, and that her kids also hunted. One year, her Christmas card showed them all sitting before the fireplace at a hunting lodge, complete with animal-head trophies on the wall. She totally forgot, and sent the card to all of the employees—including my boss. She wasn’t fired on the spot, but her life at work was never the same. She was excluded from meetings and didn’t get a raise that January. Eventually, they found a reason to let her go, but she knew the end was near.”
Having something to hide
Everyone has skeletons in the closet. If you’ve buried your past and not disclosed it to your employer, it may come back to haunt you. “An employee was let go when it came to light that he had a possession conviction for a small amount of marijuana, even though it had happened 25 years earlier, when he was 15 years old,” says Kyle. “He had been arrested and received a felony conviction for just one joint. It didn’t come to light until he had to cross the border and was stopped by the Department of Justice. He was on a business trip at the time. A coworker saw what happened and mentioned it to their boss. That was the end of his job.” You may not feel the need to disclose your past to your boss, but be prepared to defend it, if it ever comes to light. Many employers are able to forgive past discretions but find it harder to accept being deceived. Never lie on a job application. It may be easier to explain something early on than to defend it later. You should even try a few of these 16 smart ways to get your boss to trust you.
Using your First Amendment rights
You may think of your blog or social media postings as entirely separate from your job, but your employer doesn’t. “Social media is the biggest hot potato in HR in 50 years,” says Lewis. Where’s the line between behavior an employer should act on, and something that falls under the category of free speech? Lawyers and employers are trying to figure it out, and will be, for a long time. An employee may post something on Facebook that is opinion-based or offensive, but that’s very different than putting it on a poster in their cubicle. “It’s a tough call, but here’s the twist,” Lewis says. “In this country, we are not required to provide specific reasons why a person is being fired. Companies can hide behind all sorts of well-crafted communications. So, if an employee writes something offensive, such as racist comments, on their personal blog, they may lose their job because of it.” If blogging or posting online is your passion, there are ways to do it without getting fired, according to the American Management Association. Always avoid blogging negatively about your job or boss or posting photos of yourself in a work-related uniform. If your company determines that you are not representing them appropriately, you may end up getting fired even if you blog under an alias. When in doubt, remember this distinction: First Amendment rights protect you legally from incarceration, but they don’t protect you from losing your job.
Being too sexy for your shirt
No, it’s not fair. It also isn’t legal. But whether you’re a man or a woman, you may get fired for being, well, too hot. “I’ve been directly involved in some situations where an employee was considered a ‘threat’ and terminated due to their looks,” Kyle says. “I had a client who hired an administrative assistant who was deemed by the client’s wife to be too attractive. Unfortunately, she was let go, but the case went to court, and she won. She was lucky, because in this particular case, she was still under a job probationary period, and could be fired without cause. However, the court still found in her favor.” You don’t have to be a plain Jane (or Joe) in order to keep your job, but it may help to keep the plunging necklines, super-high heels, and skin-tight polo shirts in the closet during business hours. Here’s what not to wear to an interview—or the job once you land it.