Yes, an employer really can fire someone for no reason at all - but not for an illegal reason.

By Alexandra M. Steinberg

One of the most common misperceptions among employees is that they believe they have been wrongfully terminated because their bosses have been abusive toward them. However, being an obnoxious boss isn't illegal, unless it's motivated by some illegal reason. For example, as most people know, it's illegal under both federal and California law to harass someone based on factors such as race, sex, national origin, and so on. An employer also cannot retaliate against an employee for engaging in protected conduct, such as complaining about sexual harassment or certain other illegal practices.

However, it is not illegal for the boss to terminate someone because, for example, the boss had to fight traffic for two hours and now wants to take it out on his or her employees. The reality is, even though sometimes conduct is extremely unfair, it is not always illegal. An employee who is terminated or quits for good cause may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits yet may not have a basis for a lawsuit.

So what is an employee or employer do when faced with an abusive supervisor? This is where HR and employment law diverge. There are legal answers, and there are human resources answers - and the two are not always the same. Ultimately, where the boss is a nightmare but not violating the law, the right answer for the employee may be to find a new job. For the employer, finding the right solution be more complicated. Disciplining the supervisor risks that s/he may make a claim of illegal conduct of his/her own; allowing the conduct to continue risks poor morale and possible claims by other employees. Replacing a problem employee carries inherent recruiting and training costs as well as possible lost productivity. An experienced employment law attorney knows the nuances of the law, and is in a far better position to evaluate whether the conduct is illegal or not, and whether a viable claim for illegal harassment exists.

© Alexandra M. Steinberg 2016 All rights reserved.