What Is Termination of Employment?

Termination of employment refers to the end of an employee’s contract with a company. An employee may be terminated from a job of their own free will or following a decision made by the employer.

An employee who is not actively working due to an illness, leave of absence, or temporary layoff is still considered employed if the relationship with the employer has not been terminated formally with a notice of termination.

Voluntary Termination

Termination of employment can be voluntarily done by an employee. An employee who makes the voluntary decision to terminate employment status with a company usually does so when they find a better job with another company, retires from the labor force, resigns to start their own business, take a break from working, etc.

Voluntary termination of employment could also be a result of constructive dismissal. This means that the employee left the company because they had no other choice. They could have been working under significant duress and difficult working conditions under the employer. Cited difficult conditions include lower salary, harassment, new work location that is farther than the employee can reasonably commute to daily, increased work hours, etc. A forced discharge of an employee, whereby they are given an ultimatum to quit or be fired, also falls under constructive dismissal. In these cases, if the employee can prove that the employer’s actions during the tenure with the company was unlawful, they may be entitled to some form of compensation or benefits.

An employee who voluntarily leaves an employer may be required to give advance notice to the employer, either verbally or in written form. A two-week advance notice is usually required in most industries. In some cases, notice is given to the employer at the time of termination or no notice is given at all, such as when an employee abandons the job or fails to return to work.

Involuntary Termination

Involuntary termination of employment occurs when an employer lays off, dismisses, or fires an employee. A layoff or organization downsize is a decision taken by a company to reduce the number of its staff in order to reduce its cost of operations, restructure its organization, or because the employee’s skill set is no longer needed. Employees are usually laid off due to no fault of their own, unlike workers who are fired.

An employee is usually fired from a job as a result of unsatisfactory work performance, poor behavior or attitude that does not fit with the corporation’s culture, or unethical conduct that violates the company’s policies. Following At- Will Employment laws recognized in some states, an employee is performing poorly or violating some form of the company’s rules may be dismissed without warning. In fact, the company does not have to give a reason for why the employee’s job is being terminated.

While employment at-will contracts do not require an employer to warn or give reason for a dismissal, an employer cannot fire a worker for certain reasons. An employee who refuses to work more than the hours specified in the contract, takes a leave of absence, reports an incident or a person to the Human Resources department, or whistleblows to industry regulators cannot be fired for these reasons. An employer who discharges an employee for exercising their legal rights has done so unlawfully and may be liable for wrongful termination in the courts.

An illegal dismissal also occurs when an employee lets an employee go for discriminatory reasons such as religion, race, age, gender, disability, or nationality. An employer who has been found guilty of wrongful termination may compensate the wronged employee and/or reinstate them into the company.

Other than at-will conditions of employment, an employer could fire an employee for cause– known as termination for cause. A termination for cause clause may require the employer to put the employee on an improvement schedule, say 60 or 90 days, during which the employee is expected to improve work ethics. If the employee does not improve after the probationary or corrections period, they could be terminated for cause and dismissed with prejudice.

In some cases, an employer may dismiss an employee without prejudice. This indicates that the employee was let go for reasons other than incompetence, insubordination, or misconduct in the workplace. In such situations, the employee may be rehired for a similar job in the future.

Termination Compensation

In most cases where an employee who has worked with a given company for at least three months and has their employment involuntarily terminated, the employer may provide them with a notice of termination and/or a termination pay (i.e., severance pay). Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a company is not mandated to provide severance packages. A company that offers severance does so following an agreement made privately with the employee.

Also, employers are not required by federal law to give the terminated employee a final paycheck immediately. State laws may operate differently in this regard and may mandate the employer to not only immediately provide the affected employee with their final paycheck, but to also include accrued and unused vacation days.

A worker who is unemployed through no fault of their own may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Each state administers separate unemployment insurance payments program to offer temporary financial assistance to people who are unemployed and looking for a job. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) provides more detailed topics on benefits that unemployed workers may be entitled to. The DOL website contains more information.