If you think your employer can’t fire you for saying or doing something outside the workplace, you may be wrong. In fact, it is quite possible that you can be fired for things you do even when you are off the clock — although there are some very important exceptions to this rule.
At-will employment: The basics
Maryland, like most jurisdictions, is considered an “at-will” state, meaning employers are often permitted to fire employees for whatever reason they want, whether the reason is good, bad or downright ridiculous.
As a result, your employer may be able to fire you for something you did outside of work, even if it has no impact on your job whatsoever. However, there are several crucial exceptions to this, including:
- You have an employment contract: If you have an employment contract — whether individually or through a union (collective bargaining agreement) — your employment can only be terminated using the processes and provisions outlined in that agreement. This means your boss cannot arbitrarily fire you for something that occurred outside of work, unless that situation is addressed in your employment contract. It is also important to mention that, depending on the circumstances, certain personnel manuals and company policies may be interpreted as creating contractual rights. But every situation is different, which is why you should speak with an attorney.
- You are protected by statute: Both Maryland and federal law contain statutes that protect workers from discrimination in the workplace. For example, in Maryland, a worker cannot be fired for reasons that are discriminatory in nature, such as a person’s sex, race, age, disability, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. So if a worker’s termination is based on any of these reasons — even if the underlying circumstances occur outside of work — it is illegal.
- Your firing is a violation of “clear public policy”: Even if you aren’t expressly protected by statute (and you don’t have an employment contract), it is still illegal for your employer to fire you for reasons that are in violation of clear public policy. Maryland courts have found violations of public policy in a wide variety of circumstances, including situations in which employees have been terminated for refusing to violate the law or where they were exercising a specific legal right or duty.
Answering the question of whether a boss can fire someone for things they do outside of work is not an easy task. The truth is that sometimes they can and sometimes they cannot; it all depends on the circumstances.
Therefore, given the complexity of this area of the law — not to mention that every situation is different — the information contained in this article should not be relied upon as legal advice. As always, the best course of action is to seek experienced legal guidance should you have any questions.