Terminated from Employment Definition

Image shows a break room at work, with two signs up: voluntary termination and involuntary termination. Under

Image by Ashley Nicole DeLeon © The Balance 2019

What does is mean when someone is terminated from employment or dismissed from their job? Termination is when an employee's job ends. There are two types of job terminations.

  • Termination can be a voluntary termination of employment by the employee. Voluntary termination includes resignation or retirement.
  • Employment termination can also be involuntary - when an employee is terminated by the employer. Employees can be terminated for cause. In that case, an employee is fired or dismissed from their job. Employees can also be laid-off when there is no work available for them.

Dismissal From Employment

Dismissal from employment (also known as being “fired” or “let go”) is the termination of employment against the will of the employee.

Common Reasons for Dismissal

Dismissal can be due to issues with the employee’s performance, but it also may be due to factors outside the employee’s control, such as downsizing, company restructuring, or the elimination of a position.

Some common reasons for dismissal include poor performance or incompetence, attendance problems, and insubordination or other behavioral problems. Misconduct, or termination for cause, is another common reason for a dismissal. This is when employees are let go because of ethical issues, such as lying, falsifying information, stealing, or other major misconduct in the workplace.

Warning Letters or Notices Prior to Termination

Many employers have established procedures that managers must follow in order to terminate an employee. Typically, supervisors will be asked to document any problems, develop a performance plan to address issues and formally warn employees prior to terminating them. Warnings often follow a continuum of severity beginning with a verbal warning, proceeding to a written warning and eventually a final warning.

Warning letters reference specific problem behaviors, attitudes, ethical or legal transgressions and performance issues. Goals for improvement are specified, and time frames for enactment of changes are established. Warning letters detail consequences, including termination, for failure to meet expectations.

At-Will Employment and the Legality of Termination

Employers are not required to provide a reason for dismissing an employee. This is because of at-will employment, which allows employers the freedom to dismiss employees, and employees to leave companies without providing notice. However, depending on company policy, you may be able to appeal.

There are no laws designated for the sole purpose of protecting the wrongfully or unfairly unemployed. However, termination because of discrimination or retaliation is illegal under civil rights law. Some reasons for wrongful termination can include racial or religious discrimination, retaliation or payback, or refusing to commit an illegal act.

Illegal Termination From Employment

Dismissal from a position is illegal if an employer fires an employee either for discriminatory reasons or in retaliation (for being a whistleblower, for complaining, for refusing to commit an illegal act, etc.).

Illegal dismissal happens when an employer fires an employee in a way that breaks their contract or an employment law. A dismissal is also illegal if an employer does not follow the company’s own termination procedures.

If an employee believes he has been dismissed illegally, he can file a claim and take his case to court. If he wins the case, he may receive monetary compensation for being wrongfully dismissed. In lieu of compensation, another remedy is to reinstate the former employee back into the company.

In addition to any compensation won by the employee, the law can also justify charging the employer for punitive damages. In the United States, punishment can vary on account of the countless state and federal laws surrounding this topic. 

Unemployment and Compensation Benefits After Termination

  • Unemployment — Your ability to receive unemployment and other benefits after being dismissed may depend on the reasons provided for your dismissal, as well as your state. Find out more about how to collect unemployment if you are fired.
  • Severance Pay — Some companies may offer severance pay, particularly if the dismissal is due to company-related changes, such as restructuring.
  • Dismissal Compensation — Many companies outline dismissal compensation benefits in their new hire handbook. Some offer weekly compensation for varying weeks with a cap or ceiling on the benefit. Others may offer a lump sum payment. However, there is no obligation for payment until you are covered by a contract or employment agreement that provides for it.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.