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The main reason for this question is what most people tend to do when searching for a new job - don't let your boss know you are looking for another job until you have found it. Main reason is that the employer could find you a replacement faster than you might find a new job.

This would imply that the boss finds out you are searching for a new job, hire someone new, and then ... fire you based on what?

I can't really believe that searching for another job is a valid enough reason for an employer to fire an employee. Can the employer fire people without any valid reason? Does he have any consequences if he does so?

Assuming the employee is past his probation period. For the country I'm mostly interested in Germany, but would also like to know how its handled in other countries.

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    Germany has strong protections. - This is such a wide Question so what are you really asking? – Neuromancer Jun 26 at 20:50
  • In short, if the boss finds out that one of his employees is searching for a new job, can he use this information to fire the employee ASAP? Is this a valid enough reason to fire someone? – Chapz Jun 26 at 20:54
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    In my state, an employer can fire someone for any reason they want, any time they want. On the other hand, I can quit whenever I want. Freedom. But it really depends on the country and even the state in the US. – Keith Jun 26 at 20:54
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    @Chapz not in Germany as far as I know – Neuromancer Jun 26 at 20:58
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    Yes. In America we have freedom. :) I can leave my job anytime I want. And I'm not required to keep a bad employee on the payroll, or one I can't afford. – Keith Jun 27 at 11:42
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For the country I'm mostly interested in Germany, but would also like to know how its handled in other countries.

In the US it varies depending on which state you live in, as employment law is generally a state (not a federal) issue.

In an "employment at will", like where I live, they could theoretically fire you for no reason whatsoever.
It isn't like that generally... especially in companies employing more than 99 people.

For example, in my state if you fire someone they are eligible for unemployment. The more of your people who file for unemployment, the more the company's unemployment tax rate can go up (a company's unemployment tax rate is multiplied by their total payroll and paid to... the county I think).


I still advise that you

don't let your boss know you are looking for another job until you have found it.

Even if they don't fire you, if they think you're going to leave they can do stuff like move the interesting/critical projects to other people, and dump all of the busywork on you.

That might even make you want to quit ;–)

  • In areas with strong employment protection laws, the behavior described in the last part of your answer is known as "Constructive Dismissal" and is often illegal. – Player One Jun 27 at 0:58
  • Obviously it's better for you to avoid "Constructive Dismissal" in the first place. – gnasher729 Jun 27 at 6:27
  • @Player One > Well even illegal, it might not be that easy or that quick to prove it and get a compensation, so better avoid it. – Laurent S. Jun 27 at 10:28
  • @gnasher729 and Laurent S: Yes, I agree with you both, and I'm not in any way suggesting that anyone should tell their boss they're looking for new jobs. However the information about constructive dismissal both existing and often being illegal seems worth including, since the OP was asking about consequences to being fired, and what the potential consequences would be for an employer. – Player One Jun 27 at 11:52
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This would imply that the boss finds out you are searching for a new job, hire someone new, and then ... fire you based on what?

My mother works in a position where she decides who gets fired and who doesn't. We live in Denmark, so generally, we have pretty high employee protection laws. She's often said however: "If you want to fire someone, you can always find a reason". The truth is that everyone makes mistakes at work, hat's just being human.

Normally a business is fine with this, because they don't WANT to lay you off, they generally want to keep employees and make the relationship work. But assuming you want someone gone, it's often not difficult to start pointing those mistakes out.

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In Germany you can't be fired without a reason. There is however the "Betriebsbedingte Kündigung". It basically says that you are fired because your employer doesn't need you anymore. But labour protection items like notice periods are on the higher side for this kind of dismissal since it is assumed that an employer has a lot of information to plan with in this case. Notice periods and exceptions are a huge topic and you probably should read directly in the law or ask a lawyer if you are really interested.

https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/kschg/BJNR004990951.html

https://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/bgb/__622.html

might be a good starting points if you know enough German.

So they don't need a reason if they want to fire you, but they need a reason if they want to fire you immediatly or if you are protected (pregnant, member of the "Betriebsrat",...)

You might even have more protection if this is stated in your contract or in the "Tarifvertrag" your company is partial to.

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Note: Since you ask about jurisdictions other than Germany, I will focus on them here. (I'm admittedly not familiar enough with German labor law to answer that part of the question definitively).

Can the employer fire people without any valid reason?

Yes, if they're in a jurisdiction with at-will employment (e.g. in many areas of the U.S.). In these jurisdictions, they can fire employees for any reason or no reason at all, as long as it's not an illegal reason (e.g. discrimination against a protected class like disability, race, or age).

As an aid to understanding this policy, try turning it around: can you as am employee quit without any "valid enoguh" reasons? Who gets to decide what constitutes a "valid" reason for you to quit? Can someone say "sorry, that's not a good enough reason to leave your job, I'm not going to allow you to quit?" Can your employer force you to continue to come into the office whether you like it or not?

If it would bother you if they could do that, why does the concept of at-will employment bother you? How is them being forced to continue to pay you whether they want to or not any different than them forcing you to work there whether you want to or not?

  • @Neuromancer The OP explicitly asked about other jurisdictions, too. I edited to make the fact that I'm focusing on other jurisdictions more clear, though. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jun 26 at 21:47
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You asked,

Can the employer fire people without any valid reason? Does he have any consequences if he does so?

And, you indicated that you're interested in Germany and other areas.

Other answers pointed out the "at will" nature that prevails in most of the US. While it's often quoted that this means an employer can fire you for any reason, there are some very clear restrictions or limits around firing employees that are usually glossed over or ignored in answers to these questions. Really, "at will" means they don't have to give a reason, it doesn't literally mean they're allowed to fire you for any reason. The following limitations must still be followed (these are all essentially at the federal level, some individual states provide even more protections):

  • You can't be fired based on discrimination. This is implemented via a combination of federal laws in the US (ADEA of 1967, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act) and applies to all states. You cannot be fired based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, pregnancy, or disability. Of course, if an employer fires you and claims it's for some other reason, or gives no reason at all, there is a prima face burden of proof on you, the employee, to show there was discrimination. This initial burden of proof is fairly easy to satisfy in practice, but it doesn't win you the case - it just gets you in front of a court, at which point both sides argue their case.

  • You can't be laid off as part of a mass redundancy without the employer providing certain notifications. A manufacturer can't just suddenly decide to close half their plants and tell everyone "sorry, as of today you have no job." For most companies over 100 employees in size, notifications must be given 60 days ahead of time, and processes must be followed to provide opportunity for employees to be retrained and placed in other jobs as possible. Additionally, if you're over 40 and are part of a mass layoff, your employer must give you specific timeframes to consider acceptance of a severance package.

  • You can't be laid off as retaliation for whisleblowing or other conflicts with public policy If you report a regulatory issue with your employer, file a worker's comp claim with them, or take other legitimate actions allowed by policy, you can't be fired in retaliation for those activities.

  • You can't be fired for taking unpaid leave to care for a sick family member By way of the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), you're allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a sick family member, and your job is protected during that time - your employer can't terminate you because you're taking care of someone.

Besides those points, there are often cases where labor contracts will specify additional conditions If you're part of a union, the union contract almost certainly places limitations on firings and specifies processes that must be followed. Even some individual work contracts will specify additional conditions, although that's not as common.

  • IANAL, but if they don't give a reason for your firing, you have the burden of proof that the actual reason was one of the illegal ones. Unless they're stupid about it, that can be really hard to prove. (Where the word hard, in this case, means generally expensive.) – J. Chris Compton Jun 27 at 15:19

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