This is a huge, horrible mess.
Promoting you to make you fail is called constructive termination
... And it's the oldest trick in the book. A company can't get someone to quit, and can't lay them off (for some reason). So they setup the employee to fail.
- they send him out on an urgent job with a minor piece of safety equipment broken, then fire him for not using adequate safety equipment.
- they send him to do the impossile, and fire him for failing (every manager trying to clean up Larry Nasser's mess at MSU and USOC).
The upshot is that instead of doing what they're actually doing: lay them off (the UK says it elegantly: "make them redundant"), they are constructing a fiction where the layoff is in a different category than it is.
"But it's at-will employment. There's no difference!"
Several people make the point that most employment is at-will, meaning no complications like tenure, union grievance process, etc. So no difference between layoff and firing: if you try to argue the firing, they just say "OK then, you're laid off lol". You're out the door just the same. That is true; gold star for you.
Therefore, constructive termination should be irrelevant in at-will employment, yes?
The difference matters to a bunch of things. Unemployment pays on layoff; it doesn't pay on firing. Contract provisions that provide all sorts of compensation features upon layoff, from pensions to healthcare to stock options, probably do not apply on firing.
And in the instant case, that is exactly what we are dealing with here. For whatever reason, the referenced OP has a $750k golden parachute. The entire point (for the employer) of constructing a termination (contriving a firing) would be to deny the employee the nearly million dollars of compensation.
My rule of thumb is that $9000 is the threshold point where it starts becoming worth getting lawyers involved; OP's case is two decimal places from that. Everyone should expect that every single thing that happens here will be closely scrutinized by lawyers. If I were OP, I'd be Comeying the hell out of this with a daily diary of events, and be on a first name basis with my local notary public. You can bet the company is (if they're not, their lawyers suck).
Fraud is a big deal too
So yes, they can fire OP for having a big nose. However, that will count as a no-fault layoff in every way that matters. So suppose that happens, either a) the employee says "oh noes, they fired me so I lose my benefits" and they don't ask for them; or b) the employee asks for them anyway. In which case the company says c) yeah that's fair, here they are, or d) you can't have them since we used the word "fire".
If the company wins on a), they get $750,000, if they lose on d) they lose $0. It would be an all-win, no-lose situation for the company, which means it would become their fiduciary duty to stockholders to try to make that happen every single time. c) would be out of the question, simply throwing away stockholder money without trying to keep it.
At d), we arrive at fraud. The company is falsely saying it's a firing, to deny benefits, i.e. To profit from deception. The law deters that several ways, and in some jurisdictions, one way is to inflict triple damages. So it changes the economics for the company.
If the company wins, they get $750,000. If they lose, they lose $1.5 million.
Now they can tell the stockholders "See? See? It's not negligence to treat employees fairly, because cheating them is such a bad gamble!"
I don't know if the unemployment office goes after employers for treble damages. But you can bet private attorneys will on the severance. Especially if they are operating on a contingency (typically 1/3). Do they want 1/3 of $750k or 1/3 of $2.25M?
So, it's an old trick. Unemployment judges, civil judges and lawyers have seen it many times before. If the employer wants to get clever, he might find himself too clever for his own good!