Potentially fired for telling people they could be potentiallyfired.

I've been sent home pending a decision as to whether I should be fired for telling people in a meeting that they could be fired for falsifying medical device manufacturing information. (I do Quality Assurance work for a medical device manufacturer. I left out the name of the city because it's the only such manufacturer in that city.)

I learned that the manufacturing documentation for some medical device components had been falsified in this meeting. I was pretty stunned at this, since this goes against all of the training our manufacturing operators undergo and puts the entire business at risk. (Note that we determined that the components themselves were fine and met all specifications.)

Some in this meeting have since gone to HR and said that I threatened them with being fired. (I didn't, I did truthfully observe that they could be fired for this offense and that I'd seen people fired for this in less than an hour total, but that as part of the investigation, more information was needed and that HR and the plant manager would both participate.) HR is now considering firing me for 'harrasment' and 'creating a hostile workplace'.

Do they have any legal grounds to fire me?! If I'm fired, do I give up any rights to sue for unlawful termination if I sign anything? (I'll likely have to sign something just to get my final check and I'll of course need the money.)

Thanks very much.


1 answer  |  asked Oct 4, 2001 3:25 PM [EST]  |  applies to Arizona

Answers (1)

Francis Fanning
Flawed assumption

Your question seems to assume that your employer needs a reason to fire you. Without knowing the specifics of your employment agreement, I cannot evaluate your particular case. But let me explain that the general rule in private sector employment is that if you are employed for an indeterminite period of time, your employment is presumed to be terminable at will, that is at your employer's discretion, with or without cause. Just as you don't need a reason to resign, your employer doesn't need a reason to fire you. There are certain "bad" reasons for termination that can give rise to a cause of action for wrongful discharge. One is what is known as "whistleblowing," or reporting illegal conduct by an employer. Your facts don't fit this concept for two reasons. First, you didn't report anything to a person in a position to take corrective measures. Second, it is doubtful that the conduct in question was illegal, although the possibility of some kind of consumer fraud might potentially arise. Although your employer is not under a legal obligation to discipline you for "harrassment" (unless it falls into a category of unlawful discrimination, such as sexual, racial or religious harrassment), many employers treat generic harrassment as a violation of company policy and impose discipline as a matter of choice. Years ago Arizona law recognized the possibility that the company's policies might form terms of an employment contract that the company could breach by not following policy. This concept, which was an exception to the at-will employment concept, could be avoided (and often was) by the employer including a disclaimer in its policies. The Arizona legislature passed a law in 1996 that further protected employers from this kind of claim. So don't operate under the assumption that your employer needs to justify your termination. The burden is on you to prove that the reason for your termination made it wrongful.

posted by Francis Fanning  |  Oct 5, 2001 2:00 PM [EST]

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