I see no point in mincing words here: If you’re an at-will employee—as most of us non-union members are—you can get fired at any time for no reason at all (so long as it isn’t illegal). That’s a fact. But assuming you don’t work for an organization that’s likely to ax you for well, doing a great job and garnering high performance marks, you probably don’t need to overthink this one.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about some common reasons people lose their jobs (and I’m not talking about unavoidable mass layoffs or inability to meet a clearly defined sales goal).
No, I’m referring to those altogether avoidable things that you have no business doing—unless you don’t care about getting let go.
1. Stealing Company Equipment
It sounds like a no-brainer, but take a step back and you might see some less-obvious transgressions. Think no one’ll notice if you take a stack of printer paper home every week? If you accidentally “lose” your mouse and need to expense another of each? If you pocket snacks, and tea bags, and community honey every afternoon to stock your own pantry?
Fine lines, maybe, but all of it is taking what’s not yours, something companies consider a serious offense. If you get home one evening and realize you have a stack of Post-its in your bag that you could really use to leave notes for the babysitter, you’re probably not going to raise any eyebrows (or suspicion), but if there’s ever an ounce of doubt about what you’re taking—on purpose or otherwise—the only answer is not to do it.
2. Lying to a Client (or Your Boss)
We’re not talking about those little lies everyone tells at one point or another. Taking a sick day because you had terrible insomnia and can’t fathom the thought of putting on pants is one thing, but telling your boss that a family member died when really you found a cheap flight to Europe is another, wouldn’t you say?
Misleading a client’s just as bad, and don’t for a second think that it won’t come back to haunt you (these things typically do). Often, we think that fudging the truth will save us from getting in trouble, but when the story comes out, the hot water is bound to be so much hotter. If your boss or clients can’t trust you, how will you ever move up? Forget that: How will you keep your job?
If you’re worried about something reflecting badly on you, be the one to initiate the conversation about what went wrong. I promise it’s a heck of a lot easier than trying to cover it up after the fact.
3. Bullying or Harassing a Colleague
You know this one, right? Sexual harassment or workplace bullying is intolerable and pretty much guaranteed to get you canned if HR gets wind of it. Good. But be careful for all the small ways this might manifest. Shaming a co-worker’s greasy hamburger and fries lunch could easily be considered obnoxious and mean.
Commenting on a colleague’s dress or making flirty comments, no matter how subtle, isn’t OK if it’s unwanted. Simply being nasty in an email to a team member you don’t like—even if they’re doing a terrible job—is a conversation better had offline with the offending party.
Acting like a bully and causing someone to literally dread coming into work each day is one of the best reasons I’ve heard for losing your job. So, play nice: Be respectful, kind, and aware.
4. Not Doing Your Work
Most of us can relate to going through a rough patch when motivation seems impossible to grasp and we’re barely eking out a decent day’s work. Maybe some days, you look back and wonder how you wasted the whole day. Hey, it happens to the best of us. But, struggle to complete any work over an extended period of time, and you can bet your boss isn’t having it.
If you can’t be depended on to do your job (and we’re not even talking about going above and beyond), then how can you make a case that you deserve said job? Communicate with your manager if you need an extended deadline or if you’re approaching burnout, but don’t just stop doing your work.
5. Calling Out or Coming in Late on a Regular Basis
Sick and personal days exist for a reason, and you should use them at your discretion and with your supervisor’s approval. And sure, sometimes the flu will knock you out for a week, or you’ll have a family issue and need to use all of your personal days across a short period of time. But when you start calling in sick weekly or coming in late every day, you better believe your manager’s taking notice.
Again, we all have hard weeks, where bad commutes or childcare issues play prominent roles. When your absences become egregious, however, you put your job security at risk. Employers want reliable, committed people on their team, and if you can’t be this person, they’re bound to find someone who can be.
Getting fired is awful—very often for both parties. Former HR professional Dorianne St Fleur says that managers “don’t enjoy having to fire anyone and will usually try to give chances where possible,” but when it comes to “company policies being blatantly violated, there’s no alternative.”
Your job—aside from doing your job!—is to refuse to give them a reason to show you the door. Policies are in place for a reason, so do the right thing, and you’re more likely to get promoted than terminated.