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NY/USA here if jurisdiction matters.

I am employed full-time and am salaried. I have an at-will employment with no special contractual constraints with my employer. Can I lawfully be fired for simply "not being a good fit"? What does the employer have to prove to claim this?

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    The point of employment at will, and an employer saying you are not a good fit, is that the employer does not have to prove anything. It's another way of saying, "I don't like you and I don't want you working here." – jqning May 3 '16 at 11:35
  • If you quit because you want a better job, do you have to prove to your employer that there's something wrong with this one? They want a better employee. – David Schwartz Jul 17 '16 at 8:47
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Yes, you can be fired for "not being a good fit":

New York State is generally considered to be an "employment at will" state, which means that a private sector employer can pretty much hire and fire as he or she pleases and a discharged employee usually will have no legal recourse even when the discharge is unfair or unreasonable.

Source: New York State Office of the Attorney General

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    I'm not questioning the source of the above extract, but two things amuse me with the legalese. 1) the usage of "is generally considered" is an unusual choice of words for a legal document. I've read many contracts and something "is" or "is not" - The usage of "generally is", "might", "could" etc are terms that are open to challenging and interpretation and less used. 2) I'm also amused by "private sector employer" as it appears many city workers get special protections and pensions. One law for everyone, and another for them. – fiprojects May 3 '16 at 16:25
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    @fiprojects The source is not a legal document. It is a guide that attempts to summarize statute and current case law. – user3851 May 3 '16 at 18:14
  • @Dawn the criticisms of "is considered" are just as valid given the document's status as a guide. One is left to wonder whether there are some exceptions to this "general consideration" of NY as an at-will state or the writer was just one of those people who inexplicably write things like "NYC is considered to be the most populous city in NY State." – phoog May 4 '16 at 5:52
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You can significantly reduce legal risks by letting someone go without a clear reason. If you say "they don't fit in" some jurisdictions could give the employee room to challenge that decision (they might argue that you are homophobic or that they spurned your advances or some other hard to prove right or wrong allegation). I suggest if you are going to give someone the push, be nice, just tell them its not working out, the business has had to reconsider the situation and you have to let them go. You got nothing to gain by making it ugly, and you could potentially save yourself a head ache with some diplomatic speak.

An extra point worth remembering... "To fire" someone has different understanding geographically speaking. In North America, and in Germany, when you fire someone, you are dismissing them "with cause" (they were doing something illegal or some thing that could negatively impact or endanger the business). You "let someone go" or they are made "redundant" when you dismiss them "not for cause". Redundancy usually is beacuse the business is going thru some belt tightening though it can also be that the company discontinued a product/service and no longer needs employees that previously assisted in that area.

  • Is there any direct evidence from US case law that letting an at-will employee go and stating a reason creates a legal liability for the employer? – user6726 May 3 '16 at 18:32
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    Speaking as a lifelong New Yorker, I have never heard anyone assert that "fire" implies cause in an at-will context. In my experience, "let go" is a weak euphemism for "fire." In the context of a contract, such as a union situation, one has the term "lay off" to denote downsizing for business reasons. The term "redundant" is not traditionally used in connection with employment in the United States. If my employer stopped employing me, I would say that I'd been fired, regardless of the (stated or inferred) reason. – phoog May 4 '16 at 6:00
  • @phoog Ask yourself how much you would help your chances of winning future employment if you told a potential employer you had been fired, or you had been made redundant and you'll see my point. In 2014 I was responsible to close a site. Company/Jobs moved to the US, employees paid redundancy. A (genuinely great) team struggled to get interviews - I'm a contractor/consultant and have had many interviews, I assisted their job search. Altering their CV/letters to say they had been made redundant instead of being fired significantly increased the number of interviews. Perception is everything – fiprojects May 4 '16 at 10:50
  • And @user6726 I have no idea - but feel free to go forward and create a test case. If you have to let someone go because they don't fit in, hopefully you've talked to them once or twice before pushing them out. If it were my call, I would prefer reduce risk and impact that come with lawyer fee's and bad press and follow a diplomatic soft approach to achieve the same goal (terminate an employee). – fiprojects May 4 '16 at 10:52
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    fiprojects: of course. But the vast majority of people with whom I would discuss my firing would not be potential employers, and with those people I would use the word fired. You seem to be confusing spin with actual definitions. If you do that, you risk insulting people's intelligence. @user6726 I know of no case law, but it seems like pretty basic legal advice any lawyer would give: the less you say, the less likely you are to be sued. If you tell someone they don't fit in, it's one more opportunity for someone to connect the firing with the person's race, age, or whatever. – phoog May 4 '16 at 14:10

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