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?)
Let us continue this discussion in chat.– SomeoneMay 25 at 16:22
2@Mazura the any-jurisdiction tag doesn't mean I want a universal answer; it means answers from any jurisdiction are OK. I don't have a boss who's asking me to lie, but instead am just interested in how different countries handle this scenario, so I tagged it as any-jurisdiction.– SomeoneMay 26 at 21:34
There are entire fields (eg advertising and PR) that are built around various degrees of lying– epsMay 27 at 20:01
I'm having trouble envisioning a situation where it is legal to lie, and a company's interests are better served by requiring a lie to be told than by requiring that the employee refrain from divulging the truth.– EvilSnackMay 27 at 21:19
@EvilSnack bosses often ask/tell employees to do things that aren't the best way to serve the interests of the company– SomeoneMay 27 at 21:29
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.
1I don't think the courts can reject Pastafarianism (1st Amendment). I think they would have to look for evidence that the employee does (or not) insist on perfect honesty at all times. Even if they can reject an avowed parody, they would have to accept the Jedi religion. May 26 at 10:24
9@PaulJohnson Cavanaugh v. Bartelt, 178 F. Supp. 3d 819 (D. Neb. 2016): "It is, rather, a parody, intended to advance an argument about science, the evolution of life, and the place of religion in public education. Those are important issues, and FSMism contains a serious argument—but that does not mean that the trappings of the satire used to make that argument are entitled to protection as a 'religion.'"– JenMay 26 at 10:45
3@PaulJohnson To expand a bit further on what Jen said, only "sincerely-held" religious beliefs are protected. Stuff you make up and claim to be a religious belief just to gain some perceived benefit is not protected.– reirabMay 26 at 19:47
1@reirab Yes, but the test of "sincerely held" is generally whether you have a history of following its tenets, not whether the religion is mainstream. ISTR a judge saying that a religion with one adherent is still a religion. May 26 at 21:25
1The courts have, in the past, sometimes taken the side of (what might qualify as) parody religions. The Church of Satan openly admits they’re really atheists making a point about the First Amendment, although they do claim to have sincere ethical principles that they’re promoting, too.– DavislorMay 27 at 1:37
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.
Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.– Dale M ♦May 26 at 23:32
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.
12"They can do anything they want, they might just lose the legal battle afterwards" seems a pretty poor answer for a site that says "Law".– nvoigtMay 26 at 5:53
5@nvoigt it however reflects reality rather than theory. As is so often the case, what's the letter of the law differs significantly from what's happening in the real world.– jwentingMay 26 at 6:06
1True, and I think it would be a great workplace answer, but this stack seems to be about the law in theory, not about the actual practical problems you mention.– nvoigtMay 26 at 6:07
2@nvoigt I upvoted this specifically because they cautioned "just because it's illegal doesn't mean they can't do it". As a matter of fact, the question states "can you be fired [...]" not "is it legal to be fired [...]". May 26 at 9:03
3I try not to weigh in on minor wording choices, but since it came up: You have a good reason behind "You can be fired for anything...", but it just sounds like, "You can steal things, but it's illegal," which is obvious. You could just go straight to the point: "Some reasons for firing you will not hold up in court, but companies can fire you for any reason at all by claiming they fired you for a different reason." But even that seems like an overstatement when you say that your company was afraid of going to court. It makes the current wording more like just restating what is obvious.– cesoidMay 26 at 14:42
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.
1Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.– Pat W. ♦May 25 at 17:33