If your employer asks you to lie about something, and telling the lie is legal, but you refuse on moral grounds, can they fire you? Does it matter if religious beliefs are involved? (For example, if a Christian saying "I believe the Bible says lying is wrong" is protected, is an atheist saying "I believe the world would be a better place if people didn't lie" also protected?)
Since "lying" is not a clearly-defined legal concept, we need to look at a specific kind of (non)statement. Some lies are plainly illegal, for instance saying in the context of a sale that "this column is made of pressure-treated lumber" when in fact it is make of sand and Elmer's glue is fraud. A receptionist being told to say "Mr. Smith is at a conference in New York" when he is actually drunk in Chicago is a legal lie. Now the question is, who can refuse to tell this lie (without suffering employment consequences), and on what grounds?
Generally, in the US you can be ordered to tell such a legal lie as part of your employment duties. If I refuse, I can be fired. If you refuse, you can request a reasonable accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, since you proffer that your religion requires you to tell the truth / forbids you from telling a falsehood. If you make a claim for a religious accommodation, then the issue becomes whether there is a reasonable alternative. Such an accommodation might be that you instead say "Mr. Smith is not available"; or perhaps someone else who does not have a religious objection will be forced to act as receptionist for the day.
This is specifically about religion. "I don't want to" or any similar idea does not provide protection against being fired. However, bear in mind that there is no official list of approved religions and their beliefs which the courts will refer to in determining whether your refusal was protected. If you claim "As a Pastafarian, I can't lie", the courts will not accept the premise that declaring yourself to be Pastafarian (a parody "religion") is valid. The available governmental resources on the fine line between general moral code and religious beliefs are quite sparse.
You may only be dismissed in Australia for fair reason. These are:
- poor performance
- dangerous behaviour
- refusing to follow instructions
- no further need for the position (redundancy or retrenchment)
Refusing to do as you are told would fall under “refusing to follow instructions”. However, an “instruction” must be both lawful and reasonable. Depending on the lie, it might not be lawful or reasonable. If so, you can’t be fired at all.
If it is a lawful and reasonable instruction then there are not grounds to instantly fire someone.
Even when you have a reason, except for gross misconduct, you can’t dismiss an employee unless and until they have been given a fair hearing to explain themselves and have been given the opportunity to “mend their ways”. Even for gross misconduct, they still must be given an opportunity to justify their conduct.
You can be fired for anything, or nothing at all. Whether the reasons stated would hold up in court when challenged is another matter entirely. And a company wanting to force their employees to lie as part of their job isn't going to have any problems with having their HR department lie about the reason you were being fired. They'll just make something up that sounds believable enough to a judge that the judge will go along with it.
And even if not, going back to a job after such an experience isn't a good idea so you'd still be out of a job (though the court might order them to pay you a decent sum as a severance).
I've experienced something similar (though this wasn't about being told to tell lies) myself. Company wanted to fire me for medical reasons, which is illegal. So they made up an excuse that I "had not met my contractual targets" (while I was on sick leave), despite no such targets ever having been defined, and despite me being unable to reach any targets because I was on medical leave, WITH their own medical evaluation team agreeing I was unable to work. They decided to not risk a court proceeding when I threatened to sue and instead consented with paying me a good severance package.
In some circumstances, a whistleblower, fired for revealing illegal practices or unsafe working conditions, could have grounds for a wrongful-termination suit. One such law is section 11(c) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). A lawyer could actually face discipline under their bar association for making material, false statements in the scope of their representation of a client, or knowingly allowing their advice to be used to commit a crime or fraud, although they are then supposed to withdraw from representing that client..
However, you are most likely thinking of a case in the news recently (February 2023), in which a teacher claims that she considers the school district policy, requiring her to say something to students that she doesn’t agree with, which she calls a “lie” (even though there is no statement of fact involved, and even though she’s already allowed not to say anything on that subject) and says is against her religion.
In other contexts, teachers clearly can get fired for teaching their own personal religious beliefs instead of the approved curriculum, or for refusing to teach a required topic at all. Teachers’ religious liberty does not, under current precedent, give them a right to teach Creationism in biology class, the Book of Mormon in history class, or that the world’s social problems are all caused by the internal contradictions of late Capitalism. In practice, though, teachers who didn’t agree with one part of the curriculum they were given more often get out of it passive-aggressively: they skip over it, or put it last on the syllabus and run out of time for it.
Almost no one would actually want a broad legal doctrine that no one can be fired for refusing to say what they consider “a lie,” and what narrower one a sympathetic judge might create is a matter of speculation.
If your employer asks you to lie about something, and telling the lie is legal, but you refuse on moral grounds, can they fire you?
Taking into account all the labor law protections an employee may have, assuming that this lie is part of the job and legal, yes, eventually they can.
Lying is a part of basically any job. From the obvious, like marketing and retail, to the more complicated, like not publicizing your business plans or even keeping things secret, maybe even from colleagues, like impending layoffs or who earns how much money.
Sometimes, the law might compel you to lie. For example, insider trading laws might force you to not tell the truth, even if someone directly asks you, until you can make a public announcement to everybody. And "I cannot comment on that" might already tip the scales.
So yes, lying is required as part of almost every job. And while you could claim to be protected if not lying is part of your faith, you might still lose your job, if lying is a normal part of it. The same goes for other religious protections, for example you can be protected from working with raw pork or alcohol, but you cannot sue to keep your job as butcher or barkeep on those grounds, since handling pork and alcolhol are essential to the job in question.
Again, different countries might hold different opinions (expressed as laws) on how many chances, how many written warnings and how much notice you get when you refuse to do parts of your job, but eventually, after going through whatever the procedure is to fire you, you can be fired for not doing your job.
In Germany it is basically difficult to be fired. The employee can protest at the work court.
If you refuse to lie, you can be forced by your employment contract. For example in Germany people who works at the "Bundesnachrichtendienst" or at the "Verfassungsschutz" are forced to not tell anybody that they work there. I think everybody who sign a Non-disclosure agreement is going to lie. And if you dont follow the rules you will be fired, be taken to a court and it can be that you will have to pay a fee of minimum 50000$.
Yes… but not on paper.
Supposing the lie has already been solicited but not yet actually occurred, enter the Twilight Zone of subjective reality and playing with words and their meaning.
Firstly, be aware that what you consider “non-factual” may not be considered “non-factual” in a different context. Yes, $990 is not $1,000, but rounded numbers is regularly used to communicate information more easily.
Secondly, words can be represented in black and white text, but meaning is fluid. To commit to a project that has a clause outlining reasons for abandonment is as conditional as an I’m not so sure but here goes, just articulated more clearly.
Lastly, how much is your boss willing to pay for your integrity… or to put it more clearly, how much are you selling your integrity for?