Most people start their jobs with the best of intentions, trying to do the best they can, and never thinking they could be fired. Besides, getting fired is a fate primarily for incompetent employees and workers caught with their hand in the company cookie jar, right? Wrong. You might not realize just how slippery the slope out the door can be.

Businesses take a gamble every time they hire a new employee. This is why it’s vitally important for job seekers do everything can during the interview process to make the hiring manager as comfortable as possible like presenting a business plan, professional portfolio, and suggesting they reach out to recent co-workers and supervisors. However, even with strategic efforts around recruiting, interviewing, and selection and training policies, companies can still find themselves dealing with employees who are simply not fit for their job roles. At-will employment contracts allow employers to fire employees for a multitude of reasons, offering a higher layer of protection for employers regarding any litigious activity from terminated employees.

Understanding the top reasons why workers get fired can help you to avoid being fired as an employee. Here are the top 5 based on my 25-plus years as a recruiter and career coach:

1- Poor Work Performance

Poor work performance or an inability to do the job at standard is the most common reason for an employee’s termination. It’s a ubiquitous term that refers to a number of issues, including failure to do the job properly or adequately even after undergoing the standard training period for new employees, failing to meet quotas, requiring constant supervision, or requiring that the work be redone. Most (but not all) companies will try to communicate with the employee regarding their poor performance, offering additional training, a transfer, or Performance Improvement Plan (commonly known as a PIP), before all-out firing someone for this reason.

2- Misconduct

I’ve seen this one happens to some very solid work performers and contributors over the years, generally as a result of lack of good judgment or common sense. Certain types of misconduct not only will result in being fired from your job, but may also put you at risk of facing legal consequences as well. Behaviors that qualify as employee misconduct include physical or sexual harassment of co-workers or customers, bullying, fraud, and behavior(s) detrimental to the company image or brand. Unlike poor work performance where there is almost always advance notice, depending on the severity of the infraction, there may or may not be an effort by the employer to try to rectify the situation if it falls into this category.

3- Insubordination

Most companies seek out employees who are creative problem solvers and offer unique and proactive solutions for increasing market share and improving the workplace. But there is a firm line of demarcation drawn when it comes to insubordinate actions, such as repeatedly or disrespectfully arguing with a supervisor or other co-workers, outright refusing to obey directions from a manager, or exhibiting behaviors that obstruct normal business operations. An exception is when an employee refuses an order from a manager that would result in a violation of the law or of public policy. Generally, in these circumstances, federal whistleblower laws protect the employee from termination. Most employees that get fired for this reason that I’ve experienced usually benefit from coaching around interpersonal and communication skills and dispute/problem solving techniques. I’ve worked with some clients that have made major career turnarounds just by being open to changing behaviors in these areas.

4- Inappropriate Use of Social Media

Social media has become quite the workplace and business enigma. It can be extremely beneficial for businesses in its ability to connect people with the products and services they need. As a small business, Ascend uses social media extensively to reach out current and potential customers as it really helps level the playing field versus the multi-billion dollar behemoths in our space. However, when misused by employees, it can be very harmful in terms of a legal risk companies may face as well as the loss of productivity created by employees who are spending time scrolling when they should be working. I’ve personally worked with clients who have been terminated for positing to their personal social media accounts, only to have their employer question the content and decide to terminate them. A recent study found that 33 percent of U.S. employers have disciplined an employee for violating the company’s social media policy, and 17 percent have fired an employee for something they posted on social media.

5- Company Policy Violations

Back when most people received a paper paycheck, my mantra was if the company logo is on the paycheck, you need to play by their rules, not yours. Very few receive a hard copy paycheck anymore but the rule still holds true. Many times, the company’s policies are required through governmental and industry regulations and violations of those policies will leave your employer with little choice but to terminate your employment. Other company policies such as the dress code, use of company equipment such as laptop or phone, the company’s view on romantic relationships between co-workers, and the company’s view on social media use are important guidelines for you to read carefully upon accepting the job.

Considering the median tenure for the average full-time worker in the US is 4.1 years, it’s no surprise people are changing jobs at a more rapid rate that at any time in history. Layoffs, buyouts, mergers, and close-outs happen more frequently now than ever. Add in the fact that sometimes workers find themselves in the wrong position at the wrong time with the wrong boss and you have a musical chairs rendition of today’s modern workforce.

Being terminated does not have to be the end of the world. A termination from a prior position can often be the springboard to a better job and a better you!


Donald J. Strankowski is a two-time author, active public speaker, and a regular guest on FOX 31 Good Day Colorado. He is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a career management and professional development firm for businesses, professionals, and executives. Since 2001, Ascend has helped people land a better job, improve their level of performance, change careers, or start their own business. Serving customers across the US and internationally, Ascend offers best in class career advisement and professional services for any individual or company looking to gain a key competitive edge. Schedule a free consultation today.