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OK to Fire Worker for Looking for Another Job?

By Kelly Cheung | Last updated on

Can you legally fire an employee just for looking for another job?

This commonly occurs when an employee is caught using office equipment to apply for another job, or when an employee walks in late, dressed a bit nicer than usual, raising suspicions that she just came from a job interview.

It is OK to fire a worker over this?

At-Will Employment

The answer, in most cases, is yes. Most employment arrangements are at-will, meaning employees can be fired for any reason, at any time, including job hunting. However, the reasons for firing the worker cannot be discriminatory, retaliatory or illegal.

Minding the possible wrongful termination claim, an employee can be fired for looking for another job, as long as the employer uses legal means to gain this information.

The Internet can be your friend in finding more dirt on your employee's intentions -- just don't break any privacy or other laws. For example, you may stumble upon social-media posts by your employee, expressing interest in finding new work or dissatisfaction with their current work. If it's posted publicly, it should be fair game to read it.

On Company Time

More than likely, your employee would know better than to surf the web or apply for jobs while on company time. You can make it a company policy to periodically check all work computers. If it seems that your employees are looking for other work while on the clock, then that's generally a good enough reason to terminate them.

This situation may come up more often than you might think. A Gallup poll found that many workers are unhappy with their work for various reasons. The poll found that most of the dissatisfaction is with on-the-job stress and benefits offered. You may want to consider addressing your employees' perceived unhappiness at work before you find the need to fire them.

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