Termination For Cause: What Does It Mean?

When you’ve been terminated or fired for cause, this means that you may have violated one or many of your employer's code of conducts or ethics. Before getting into what this means and how to handle the situation, understand that all working environments have their own code of conduct. Depending on the industry you are in, there may be more specific reasons or cases that would make you readily available to be terminated for cause. For example, if you were handling financial information in your role, and this information was obtained by a party who should not have it, you may be liable. In other instances, the cause for the termination may be more unclear. This may be that your attitude in the workplace is affecting others and that may be enough for termination.

Here are just a few situations which may be applicable for cause:

  • Violent behavior
  • Confrontational language
  • Inappropriate gestures or language towards certain races, genders or other
  • Falsifying records
  • Lying
  • Being convicted of crimes
  • Being tardy on a regular basis
  • Failing performance reviews
  • Wasting company time
  • Falsifying expenses

For these reasons and potentially many more, you are being fired and not laid off.

When you are terminated from the company in this fashion, the employer is not required to give you notice. Meaning, you could be terminated and sent home that very same day. It is not against the law for them to not give you notice. It is also not a requirement by law for the employer to give a reason for your termination at the event of your departure. But when filing for the termination, the employer will generally document the reasoning for the termination.

Is poor performance termination for cause?

Poor performance is absolutely a reason for why you could be fired. If it's for "without cause" it may be because you have not been informed about your poor performance yet. For instance, if you haven't had a performance review where goals and output is being documented. Though, if you have been given a performance review and you consistently don't meet expectations, this can be cause for termination.

What's termination without cause, then?

Termination without cause, as it differs from "for cause" means that employer has decided at their will that you aren't suitable for the position. This may not indicate that you have done anything wrong. But that the employer generally feels as though they no longer need your services.

Do employers have to give a reason for the termination?

Federal law states that employers do not need to provide a reason for the termination. Though some states require this if the employee asks. It is best to either consult a local attorney who deals with employment matters or to look up your local state laws before you decided to inquire to your employer about the reason for the termination.

Knowing your rights

Generally speaking, most employees are employed “at-will”. This tricky term means that the employee and employer are in general agreement that there is the ability for the employer to terminate you anytime they decide to do so. This is usually covered in the agreements that you signed during the start of your employment.

If you are terminated for cause, you may still be able to discuss severance with your employer. It depends on the employment agreements you signed initially, and how your employer wishes to handle the situation. Be advised, they are not required to provide you severance.

Feel you’ve been wrongfully terminated

Most employees who have been terminated initially feel as though they have been wrongfully terminated (or often referred to as wrongful dismissal). Understand that you need to take a moment to reflect upon the past events and decide whether or not you may have engaged in some type of act which violated the ethics of that employers work environment. If you feel as though you truly have no reasoning for why you may have been terminated, then you may want to start investigating wrongful termination. Wrongful termination is a difficult argument in court, be advised that you should seek legal counsel if you feel you’ve been terminated due to your race, gender, sexual orientation or upbringing.

If you decide that you don’t want to contact a local attorney to learn about your state-level employment laws, then you may want to decide to move forward on appeal the decision of your termination. The US Department of Labor has many resources on where to file these claims.

Being terminated for cause means that you may not be able to apply for unemployment compensation. But you should check with your states unemployment office if you are concerned about this. If you file a claim to appeal your termination and it is in limbo, your employer may be required to compensate you during the appeal process, which could take weeks to months.

Generally speaking, wrongful termination suits are a long process. For both the employer and the employee. They can be costly for both parties and often never lead to anywhere positive. It is advised that unless you feel strongly that you have been terminated for reasons which are unethical, then you should focus your efforts on improving yourself and moving forward.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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