Updated: Obviously they can fire you and let you go but the question here is about disputed reason that they came up with which might not be true or are totally wrong, just to damage you further.

Having worked there for 6+ years, I was let go after my annual review with my manager.

  • The main reason they cited was bad grades on my projects. The grades were poor because there were discussion in the project (which I discern as meetings). The report said, the quality of work was otherwise great. I had presented my work/project to colleagues and seniors and was very well received.

  • The four projects I lead were now completed.

Because they terminated me for cause, they didn't give me the layoff/severance package.

My question is, can the employer just choose any reason just to get you fired and you can't do anything? They could have said, you are being laid off because we do not need you anymore. But I guess the point here was, they wanted to take the benefit package as well.

Is there anything an employee can do in this case?

  • 1
    This is in reference with US only. Assume a big employer in US such as IBM.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 18:09
  • 17
    Talk to a labor lawyer. If you are denied unemployment due to a false reason for firing, then you may have a case. That is why most companies do not give a reason for firing.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 19:26
  • 1
    @Ramhound, if you are the core developer for the company and own the projects that you created from scratch and is a source of revenue for the company + no complaints from customer, the reason that you have a poor grade because because there were discussions involved does not seem reasonable one to me.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 14:04
  • 4
    There are over 53 different systems of labor laws in the USA (fifty states, District of Columbia, Purto Rico, Guam....). Its VERY unusual for a US employer to give a written reason for termination. Something here doesn't pass the smell test. You need to talk to a labor lawyer in your state. Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 15:58
  • 2
    @Ramhound, I am actually a very polite person and have no attitude problems. But I was among one of the those was were a little vocals we were not being promoted while we were doing all the work. There were some disagreement between me and managers on other project. Turned out my approach was correct. Yes, it was difficult to work there in the first place. I was thinking to leave for years. But did not see this coming.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 13:46

6 Answers 6


Large companies have large HR departments, and large HR departments typically DO NOT CITE A REASON unless they have clear, unequivacal and verifiable PROOF in writing that you were clearly deficient in your role.

In the grand scheme of things a small amount of money in the form of a severance package and unemployment is a pittance compared to the potential legal costs they face if they give a reason that they cannot prove in court, so be absolutely certain that they have the highest confidence that if you talk to a lawyer that you will not have a case.

With that being said, it would be foolish to not at least have a consultation with a lawyer, just don't get your hopes up to high that much will come of it.

  • This answer gives me clarity weather I should pursue with a lawyer or not although admittedly it is going to be costly anyhow. I would not advice this for anyone unless they can clearly see the firing reason was wrong and they have reason they can disprove it.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 14:37
  • 1
    You should apply for unemployment. Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 17:28
  • @kevincline, done that already. Considered lawyer too, but it cost $10,000+ just to fight the case which is not easy
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 19:06
  • 3
    @Thecrocodilehunter - If they are demanding that then you probably do not have a case. Do yourself a favor. Ask yourself what you could have done better, learn from it, move on. I think most people will have this sort of experience in their life. It is how you handle it and what you do next that will help or hinder your growth. Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 14:12
  • It does not cost $10,000 to consult a lawyer. They will have a much better idea if you have a case or not than random people on the internet. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:45

Yes, the standard employment contract in the US is "at will" and the company may dismiss you at any time, without reason.

In reality, this is actually the usual case for a terminated employee. If any reason is given is can be used at the basis for a lawsuit, therefore the standard reason has become "no reason".

The upside is that if you were let go "without cause" you can usually obtain unemployment benefits without issues.

  • Isn't there some unfairness going on here. they could have just say, sorry you are laid of. But they came with wrong reasons. Do the employee has any right to dispute these wrong reasons esp in this case. Quality was great and it was on time but grade is poor for no reasons.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 18:43
  • @Thecrocodilehunter - Yes life is very much unfair. They can dispute it if the company tries to contest unemployement but I doubt they will with the reasons they gave. No one except the people at the company will probably ever find out why you were let go anyway. Commented Jun 28, 2012 at 19:41
  • 4
    @Thecrocodilehunter - You claim you recieved bad grades on your reports and they made they claim this is the reason you were let go. This is seems like a perfectly valid reason to let somebody go, it sounds like you were difficult to work with, to the point you upset the wrong people. Its fine to disagree with somebody, but once a decision has been made about something, you just have to accept it.
    – Donald
    Commented Jun 29, 2012 at 12:39
  • 1
    @Earlz - You were not fired for being late once. So how many times were you late to work?
    – Donald
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 12:58
  • 2
    @Earlz It sounds like a typical case of "We're not going to talk about our problems with you being late, but it's a problem". Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:53

Apply for unemployment benefits. If the employer argues that you are ineligible due to poor performance, it will be up to the employer to prove this. Because the termination was so abrupt (no probationary period), and because they aren't alleging fraud or gross negligence, I think the employer will have a tough case. But if the employer does attempt to deny unemployment, see a lawyer.

  • I don't know of any state that denies unemployment benefits for "poor performance"
    – user102008
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 2:36
  • Unemployment can often be denied for "terminated with cause". Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:56

From what you describe, it sounds like annual review results were unexpected for you.

If this is the case, consider contacting HR guys in the company and raising this issue to them. No need to dispute evaluation of your strong and weak points, focus strictly on the fact that review outcome has been unexpected for you, the employee. There is a good chance that this will be taken into account.

Firing at will may be 200% legal, but this does not necessarily mean that performance review system is purposely designed to enable that. In fact, opposite is more likely - that there is sort of protective measures provided do avoid performance reviews working that way.

  • My friend once mentioned that when he was a manager at Intel, he even saw few annual reviews "reverted" when there was an evidence that outcome has been unexpected for an employee. Not all companies may be as strict at enforcing a policy like that, but in my experience, similar guidelines were more or less officially supported everywhere where review results involved subjective judgement of the managers.

Thing is, when company is unable to establish objective and transparent performance review criteria (as an example, criteria at Fog Creek look pretty straightforward) - when the system is not sufficiently objective, company has to involve subjective judgement of the managers. But this in turn exposes a company to the risk of senseless decisions that may be taken by some of the managers.

Requiring review outcome to be expected for employee (even negative one, like I knew, I knew it's coming!) can be used to offset the risk of manager pulling arbitrary reasons out of thin air and evaluating employees irrelevant to their performance. There are other approaches attempting to address this issue, like 360-feedback etc, but diving into this would rather be a subject of a separate question.


Now, I would like to say a few words about details of your review.

grades on my projects... were poor because there were discussion in the project (which I discern as meetings). The report said, the quality of work was otherwise great...

I've been once graded like that. Did not end with firing in my case, but nevertheless turned out painful. Quite painful. Also, I learned a few things that later allowed me to setup a more comfortable er divorce with a company.

First thing is, whenever there is a performance review system, check their rules and criteria.

  • Management and HR may tell you it's OK, it's totally objective and transparent etc etc - but don't forget it may be just their job to tell you so. Don't blindly rely on that, don't expect it to be that way unless you check and verify that yourself. After all, "transparent objective" criteria imply that these are easy to discover, understand and evaluate - if you find out it's not so, well, you better assume that it's either not transparent or not objective or both.

If you find out that review criteria do not completely and clearly connect to your technical achievements, well, you better assume that subjective judgement of your manager plays a substantial role in the evaluation.

If this is the case - and from what you describe it looks like this is the case - this means one can not plan annual review to go like this:

    4 successful projects => great work

Instead, one has to expect something more like this:

    Positive: 4 successful projects
    Negative: 3 times hurt someone's feelings
    Balance: ...

...well, outcome for above is really hard to predict, since "balance" mixes objective and subjective points.

How to generally "accommodate" to review system that involves subjective evaluation of the manager could be a topic for another, separate question, but one thing is for sure: ignoring its specifics would be quite risky.

  • Let me just add. The issue was pointed out to HR. They were listening first. Then another manager reviewed and took manager 1 side and then when they stopped listening. It was a done deal. If there are no warning, no signals, it is hard to justify firing on your grades. What I did not mention, there is politics going on here. I am not the only victim. I should have sensed it, it was coming and in the pipeline, of course not because of my poor performance.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 18:59
  • @Thecrocodilehunter I see. From this, it looks like performance review system has been simply bent from the top to play at their will ("at will"). In that case, the best thing you probably can do is to prepare a sensible explanation if poor grade ever pops up at your future job interviews. You seem to have enough data to make it look OK, just polish how you would present it. Be firm but not hard. As they say, assertive...
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 1, 2012 at 19:20
  • exactly, but it is just too expensive to go with a lawyer and is not easy as well.
    – TheTechGuy
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 13:49
  • @Thecrocodilehunter well I don't think one needs a lawyer to prepare to handle a pair of simple questions at job interview, like "why did you left company X?" or "there was negative grade at annual review back then in company X, why?" Just compile the information from this very question, wordsmith it into brief reasonable "overview" and practice how would you tell it in front of the mirror or, better yet, in front of some friendly listener
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 2, 2012 at 21:11

In general employement in the United States is an At will agreement. This means that your employer can terminate you at any time. That does not mean you have no recourse. However generally unless you meet criteria that would protect you from this, your only resolution will be monetary compensation.

Technically, it appears based on your description, the termination was for cause. While you may not agree with the cause this will remove some of those protections.

The only real option the employee has is to contact an employment attorney. If the employee has a good case the attorney may take the case on contingency. However sometimes it is just easier to find a new job and move on. A future employer is not going to be happy should they find out about the suit in the applicants past. And while they may not be able to decline based on that, there are other reasons to point out.

  • No, doing a bad job is NOT "cause" in any state I know of
    – user102008
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 2:38
  • @user102008 - I did not say that it was. Just that based on the OP's description that is how it was handled. What the employee is told at separation and what gets written up can vary greatly. With out getting an attorney the OP will probably never see the written reason. Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 2:58

Because they cite your performance on the projects, they have stated a cause to fire you. You can try and fight it but they could argue that if you were not performing at the level they expected they were overpaying you.

They have incentive to avoid having to pay severance. They also will pay higher unemployment premiums if you are let go due to a layoff or RIF. How successful they are will depend on the state and how much documentation they have.

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