Question: I work for an apartment management company. My employer is claiming that I was fired for inappropriate texting to a tenant at the apartment complex. I was initially given a suspension pending an investigation. After the investigation report was completed, I was fired.
The employer has no policy about using cell-phones, and no policy against texting. Do I have a case for wrongful termination?
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Answer: Dear Leonard:
Though it may seem quite unfair to you – and in many ways it is unfair – I don’t see any basis for a lawsuit or other legal claim of any kind.
1. Unless you have a written contract of employment for a certain period of time, your employment can be terminated for any reason, so long as it is not a reason that is forbidden by law. Certain reasons for terminating an employee are illegal: as three examples, (i) because he or she is of advanced age; (ii) because he or she practices a certain religion; (iii) because he or she has objected to an illegal practice by the employer. The reason given for your employment termination would seem to me not to be one of the “illegal reasons.”
2. It makes no difference that no “anti-texting” policy was in place. Employers establish clear written policies on certain matters in order to make sure that employees know “the rules.” They are like clear signs along the highway that tell you “No U-Turn” and “Speed Limit 50 MPH.” Such “clear signs” and written rules help us all prevent “accidents.” But employers can’t be expected to have a “rule” for every situation or circumstance; rather, many situations simply require that employees use good judgment.
3. In my experience, differences of “personal judgment,” where there is no clear policy in place, are among the most common reasons for employment termination. It’s like the crime called “Disorderly Conduct”: no one can describe exactly what constitutes “disorderly conduct,” but many people are arrested for it, and convicted of it. That’s because it can mean many different things, depending on the circumstances. It’s the same thing at work: using what the employer views to be poor judgment is surely grounds for employment termination, and the matter comes up so very commonly.
Sorry for the disappointing news. Hopefully this will be a lesson learned, and not to be forgotten.
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