13 Justifications for Termination

Occasionally, it’s necessary to fire one of your employees. While the specifics related to the termination might differ, usually the reason for termination falls into one of a few specific categories. Knowing when you can and cannot fire an employee is vital as an employer. Learn what employee termination is, discover the most common reasons for firing an employee and review frequently asked questions about employee termination. 

Related: Contracting Independent Workers: What Is a Contractor? 


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What is employee termination?

Employee termination can go by several names, including letting an employee go or firing an employee. Terminating an employee means that you’re ending your professional relationship with them and they no longer work for your company. The process for terminating an employee depends on your company practices and the state laws that govern fair employment practices. 

Related: The Difference Between Exempt vs. Non-Exempt Employee


Most common reasons for employee termination

Consider these 13 common reasons for firing an employee:


1. Incompetence

Usually, firing an employee for incompetence, which is also called poor performance, happens after a series of warnings and interventions. Incompetent employees are unable to perform their job duties as directed, even with assistance.


2. Insubordination

Insubordination is the refusal to follow instructions, usually paired with aggressive or disagreeable language. Insubordinate employees’ behavior can impact their colleague’s comfort at work and negatively affect the company’s culture. 


3. Attendance

Employees who are regularly late to work or who take more days off than the company allows may not complete their work assignments on time. Employees with attendance issues often put a strain on their coworkers, leading to low morale in their departments. 


4. Theft

Theft is illegal. Stealing from the company or from coworkers can not only lead to termination for the employee, but could also result in legal action from the person or organization the employee stole from. Stealing includes any type of robbery, from petty theft, like taking office supplies home, to stealing expensive items like computers or cash. 


5. Sharing confidential information

Depending on the employee’s job, they may have access to proprietary company information. In these cases, most organizations require the employee to sign a non-disclosure form in which the employee certifies they won’t share the information they work with. Employees who violate company policy by sharing confidential information are worthy of termination. 


6. Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can vary in severity from unwanted comments to unwanted physical touch. Take any accusations of sexual harassment seriously and conduct an investigation. Some extreme forms of sexual harassment may also be punishable by law. 


7. Violence

Violence at work, such as damaging company equipment or property through physical force or striking a coworker, is both illegal and an offense worthy of termination. Most companies have a zero-tolerance policy for violence, meaning if a violent act occurs at work, the company may fire the employee immediately. 


8. Threats

Making threats of any kind can be a terminable offense. It doesn’t matter if the threats are made verbally or in writing. If an employee threatens another employee or the company, termination is a reasonable response. 


9. Misconduct

Misconduct is a catch-all phrase that applies to a multitude of unwanted behaviors. Examples include: 

  • Bullying
  • Criminal behavior
  • Lying
  • Fraud
  • Spying for a competitor


10. Substance abuse

Substance abuse includes using alcohol or illegal drugs on the job. Some companies may also perform random drug tests to see if employees are abusing drugs outside of work. 


11. Damaging property

Property damage might include intentionally breaking equipment or even the unintentional destruction of a high-value piece of company property. 


12. Falsifying records

Knowingly recording false statements or facts is both illegal and a fireable offense. The specifics of records falsification depends on the industry and person’s job. 


13. Using company resources for personal benefit

Some employees might have a personal business venture they explore when they’re not at work. Most companies have no problem with that, but if the employee is using company resources and time for that venture, that can lead to termination. 

Related: How to Fire an Employee: Three Things You Must Never Do


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Frequently asked questions about employee termination 

Do I have to give a reason for termination?

State law governs the legality of providing cause for termination. Some states are “at-will employment” states, meaning employers can end employment contracts with their employees “at-will” and without stated cause. However, some states require an explanation for termination. It’s best to review the specific laws in your state before providing notice of termination. 

Related: What Does Terminated Mean?

Who signs a notice of termination?

The notice of termination, also called a pink slip or termination notice, alerts the employee of their impending termination. Depending on the offense, the company might issue the notice of termination several days or weeks before the employee’s last day of work. Usually, human resources representatives or other company employees who manage employee hiring and turnover are responsible for signing a notice of termination documents.

Related:How to Convert Contractors to Full-Time Employees

What is an employee entitled to upon termination?

Terminated employees are entitled to certain rights following their termination. While the specifics vary from state to state and from company to company, these are a few of the most common entitlements for terminated employees that you should know about:

  • Final paycheck
  • Extended health insurance
  • Continuing benefits
  • Severance pay
  • Unemployment compensation

Related: Understanding Contract Employee Termination

There are many reasons a company might choose to release a staff member. Know the common reasons for terminating employees and review the laws in your state regarding notice of termination and whether you need to provide cause for termination.

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