The term “quiet quitting” is a popular workplace trend in 2022 and has been popularized through social media. However, the name is somewhat of a misnomer—no one is actually quitting their job. Rather, quiet quitting is a trend that involves employees limiting their work activities to those which are strictly outlined in the job description.
The idea behind the movement is to protect one’s work-life balance and avoid burnout. It is a rejection of “hustle culture” and the pressures to go above and beyond at work, particularly when one is getting paid a salary and wouldn’t be compensated for extra time spent at the office.
Can an Employee Be Fired for So-Called “Quiet Quitting”?
Most employees are subject to employment “at will.” This means that, in general, a company may terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all as long as it does not violate different anti-discrimination laws, such as those forbidding discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, age, handicap, national origin, ethnicity, and so on. However, in addition to these constraints on the idea of employment at will, most state courts accept a “public policy” exemption.
So, in most cases, an employer may terminate an employee’s employment if they suspect the employee is underperforming, which may be the employer’s reaction if an employee is only doing those tasks that would be considered the “bare minimum.” Quiet quitting will be especially noticeable to an employer that once had a high-functioning and high-performing employee who now participates far less in the workplace than they used to.
As a result of the possibility of the aforementioned claims, an employer should be prepared to provide proof that it was, in fact, poor performance (and only poor performance) that resulted in the employee’s termination. On the flip side, an employee should be prepared to provide proof that an employer terminated their employment for discriminatory or unlawful purposes.
Does the Existence of An Employment Contract Make a Difference?
When there is a contract in existence, the employer’s authority to fire an employee is further limited. An employment contract substitutes the “at-will” element of employment with the conditions of the contract. When an employment contract exists, the provisions govern when and why the employee can be fired. Whether a contract was explicitly made or inferred by other events, arguments might arise over its interpretation and whether or not its provisions were effectively complied with. For example, an employee handbook’s language may create a contract in very limited circumstances.
A “for cause” termination provision is a common employment agreement provision. The employment agreement may state that the employer can terminate the working relationship at any time, without prior warning, for any reason or no reason, but if it does so without “cause” (aka “just cause”), the employee must be paid a set amount of severance pay.
Cause should be properly stated in the employment agreement and often covers several types of employee misbehavior, such as insubordination, theft, a criminal conviction, or breach of another agreement (such as a non-compete agreement). The meaning of cause is sometimes the topic of heated debate when negotiating employment agreements. The employer often prefers to have as broad a definition as possible and retain as much discretion as possible, whereas the employee prefers to have a much more limited definition.
Contact Our Employment Law Attorneys Today
If you think you have a valid claim for wrongful termination, you should contact our experienced employment law legal team as soon as possible. There is a time limit (statute of limitations) for filing wrongful termination claims. The Crone Law Firm is one of the few firms in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, and the Southeast to focus exclusively on employment law matters. We are passionate about resolving your workplace disputes, and we know the law inside and out. Call us at 901-737-7740 to see how we can help.