Can You be Fired for Looking for Another Job? (Maybe, here’s why)


Sometimes a job just isn’t a good fit for us and we’ve decided to look elsewhere while still employed. If that’s you, you may be wondering can you be fired for looking for another job?

Here’s what I know having hired thousands of employees over the years:

In an at-will state, employees can be fired at any time for any reason not protected by the EEOC. But most employers would not fire an employee simply for job hunting. They might, however, fire an employee for calling in sick excessively to attend interviews or falsifying time cards in order to apply for jobs.

But there’s a lot more to know about job hunting while employed, so let’s keep going!

After all, while in most states an employer could fire you for job hunting, most would not fire you for that alone. But there are dozens of other related reasons they could fire you for that may come up.

But, there’s no shame in deciding a job isn’t a good fit. After all, if the job isn’t a good fit for you, chances are you aren’t a good fit for the company either.

Maybe you feel under-appreciated. Maybe you feel underpaid. You’ve asked for a raise, but it was denied. Maybe it’s just not the right work environment for you.

Regardless of your reasons, you want to start looking for another job. But you have questions.

Should you tell your boss you are job hunting? If you don’t tell them, can they ask? Can you be fired for job hunting or posting your resume online?

We have answers to all of these questions and more.

Just keep reading!

Can you be fired for job hunting?

Yes.

It is perfectly legal for an employer to fire you for the sole reason that you are looking for a new job.

But, it’s very unlikely. I discussed the bad practice of firing people for asking for a raise in this recent article. Just like it’s a bad business practice to fire someone for asking for a raise, it’s equally bad to fire someone for looking for another job.

Just click that link to read more on my site. After all, while there are lots of things you could be fired for, that doesn’t mean it’s likely.

In fact, you can get fired for anything that’s not protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (think gender, race, pregnancy, and disability), particularly if you are an at-will employee.

An at-will employee can be fired at any time, for any reason, with a few exceptions that would violate federal employment law, like discrimination. In turn, at-will employees can quit at any time, without notice.

There are some exceptions to at-will employment.

If you work in the public sector, if you are a union worker, or if you are refusing to violate public policy, you cannot be fired for no discernible reason.

You should be aware of whether or not you are an at-will employee and chances are, that you are an “at-will” employee, as all states recognize at-will employment, with a few states that have limitations in place, in addition to federal law.

If you are a citizen of one of the states listed below, you should refer to those laws and regulations as it relates to employee’s rights. These states have various limitations and restrictions as it pertains to at-will employment.

Here are all of the at-will states:

Alabama Missouri
Alaska Nebraska
Arizona New York
California North Carolina
Delaware Pennsylvania
Florida Rhode Island
Georgia Texas
Indiana Utah
Louisiana Virginia
Massachusetts Wyoming

Can an employer ask you if you are looking for another job?

Yes, they can.

You also have the right to lie or to be evasive with your answer (e.g. “Why would you ask that?”), on the other hand, you can use this question as an opportunity.

An opportunity to show integrity and be honest.

Something led your manager or boss to ask you if you are looking for another job. Maybe it was a rumor or they’re just getting a certain vibe.

Bosses are people, too, and if they have treated you with integrity, they deserve your honesty.

If you’re a valuable employee, maybe they will be eager to keep you around. However, if you’re less than stellar, they may decide to let you go upon finding out you’re job hunting.

It is a risk.

If you decide to be honest with your answer, make sure you have enough money saved up to live off of, if necessary. That way, if you do get fired, at least you’ll be able to survive until you find another job.

But, if your boss asks you if you are looking for another job, think about what you are doing at work, regardless of how you choose to answer the question.

  • Are you taking calls at work?
  • Are you leaving early or coming in late?
  • Do you call out sick frequently?
  • Are you taking extra-long lunch breaks?
  • Are you talking to coworkers about your job hunt?

If you are doing these things, your manager is likely picking up on it. If you don’t want them to know you are looking elsewhere, you should be a little less obvious about your job hunt.

Here are some tips to covertly look for another job while you are still employed:

  1. Don’t tell anyone at work that you are job hunting: Telling coworkers that you are job hunting can poison your working relationships. If you tell one person, chances are that everyone will eventually know. Most importantly, don’t post about it on social media. If you’re going to post it on social media, you should just go ahead and post it on a billboard.
  2. Don’t let prospective employers talk to your current employer. Just don’t. Not unless you know for sure that your current employer will be okay with you job hunting.
  3. Don’t post on job boards: Your current employer uses these same job boards for recruitment. Wouldn’t it be shocking to see an employee’s resume on a job board?
  4. Turn off the “update network” feature on LinkedIn: If you are updating your LinkedIn profile, it’s going to be obvious that you are looking for a new job. Particularly if you are not regularly active. If you turn off the feature to update your network, you can make your updates without notifying everyone you are connected with. You can also let recruiters know you are open to job offers without notifying your whole network.

Can my employer stop me applying for another job?

It depends.

Of course, if you are using company time and resources to apply for jobs, not only can they stop you, but they can fire you.

As I mentioned in this recent article, your employer most likely spent hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to get you properly trained and to make sure you have the resources you need to perform your job for them.

Just click that link to read more on my site.

If you are using company time to look for a new job, especially if it’s in the same field, your employer is not going to be happy.

Think about it.

If you spent time and money training someone to do a job, and they jumped ship, how would you feel?

  • Disappointed?
  • A little betrayed?
  • Annoyed?

Additionally, if your performance and overall work quality go down, your boss can fire you.

But I get it!

Sometimes a job simply isn’t a great fit. Maybe your work environment isn’t great, or the commute is longer than you’d like.

There are lots of reasons to look for a new job.

Just do the job hunting on your own time. Submit applications and resumes outside of working hours. When you are at work, treat work like you should – with the same enthusiasm and professionalism as always.

It is perfectly fine to look for another job. It is not okay, however, to let your current work product suffer.

Should I tell my boss I’m interviewing for another job?

That’s really up to you, but probably not.

If you have the PTO (paid time off) available, and you use it, you don’t have to tell your boss you’re interviewing. However, as I discussed in this recent articlethere are ways you could get fired just for calling in sick. Just click that link to see the article on my site and to find out what those reasons are.

So use your PTO, but use it wisely.

Things like this really depend on the relationship you have with your boss. Bosses can be amazingly supportive when you are looking for another job.

Bosses can also be really annoyed and fire you.

Some may even see it as completely disloyal and take it personally. Some immediate supervisors may seek ways to punish you while you are still with the company.

And of course, you should be careful about seeking jobs with competitors. If you’ve signed a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) or No Compete Agreement, it is almost certain that ethical or legal issues will arise if you go to work in the same field.

In most cases, unless you are certain your boss will be supportive, it may be best to make sure your boss doesn’t find out. If you fear you will get fired before you are ready to quit, it may be a good idea just to keep quiet.

Take interviews outside of working hours, or during your lunch break.

If you do it during your lunch break, make sure the recruiter knows you have a finite amount of time available. Taking extra long lunch breaks will shine the spotlight on you and make you a target for scrutiny.

Most importantly, stay focused on your current job. They are currently your source of regular income and deserve your respect and professionalism.

Can you be fired for posting your resume?

Sure you can.

Remember the “at-will” employment information from above? That applies in this situation, too. In the majority of states, you can be fired for any reason.

But just because you could be fired for any reason doesn’t mean most employers will actually do that. It’s just not very likely you’ll be fired unless you’re doing so on company time and/or using company resources to do so.

However, if your boss comes across your resume online, he or she may take it personally.

They will see it as a lack of loyalty to them and the company. Bosses want employees who are committed and loyal to the job.

It may be best not to post a resume at all.

Chances are that your company uses many platforms for recruitment. If they happen to come upon your resume, it could come as an unpleasant shock.

It would be best to use a platform like LinkedIn to job search and submit resumes directly to companies you are interested in.

This way your resume isn’t out there in the wild and you are performing a more targeted job search. Alternatively, you could work with a recruiter. Recruiters keep your resume in their database and contact you when a job comes up that you may be interested in.

How do I schedule an interview if I work full time?

It can be tricky to job hunt while you are working full time.

Thankfully, employers are more likely to hire candidates that are already employed. It gives them more confidence that you’ll be a good hire.  source

The first and most obvious option would be to use vacation days to interview. Alternatively, you could call in sick. Obviously, that’s less ethical though.

You may not have any vacation days available, and if you’re calling in sick all the time, your employer will quickly lose patience with you.

So it’s important to communicate with your recruiter or the interviewer. Let them know that you would prefer to keep the job search confidential.

If you are a strong candidate, they will meet you at a time that is most convenient for you.

Recruitment does not only take place between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. You also have a life outside of work. Let the recruiter know what time works best for you.

If they are not willing to work with you, then just keep looking.

One of the best things about looking for a job while you are already employed is that you don’t need the job. There is less pressure on you so you can take the time to find the job that best suits you.

If my boss fires me for job hunting can I collect unemployment?

It really depends on why you were fired. But yes, if they fired you just for job hunting, you should be able to collect unemployment benefits until you get a new job.

It’s not likely that you are going to get fired simply for job hunting. You are very likely to get fired due to misconduct or poor performance. Stealing, lying about your hours, or doing something that is in clear violation of company rules are all valid reasons to get fired.

They are also valid reasons to deny any claims for unemployment.

In my decades of leading people, I often found employees to be confused about what unemployment really is. Unemployment is a state government benefit that pays the employee when they have been laid off or wrongfully terminated.

And it only pays them while they remain unemployed.

If the employee quit or abandoned the job or was let go for legitimate reasons, they are not eligible for unemployment. Also, if they already had a 2nd full-time job or quickly found a new one after leaving, they are not typically eligible for unemployment.

Keep these things in mind during your job hunt.

If you are being sneaky and fudging your time card while interviewing, that is a fireable offense. If you are job hunting while you are on the clock, it could be considered time-theft because the company is paying you to work for them.

They are not paying you to jump ship.

Generally speaking, if you were fired with cause, you may not be able to collect unemployment. But unemployment benefits are determined by the individual states, and each state has different regulations.

Job hunting is not usually considered “with cause” when it comes to unemployment. However, if your job hunting causes your performance to decline, the ability to collect unemployment becomes a little more muddled.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about whether you can be fired looking for another job?

Staying at a job that you want to leave can be miserable.

In this article, we took an in-depth look into at-will employment states, and how job hunting while still employed works. We looked at how to do that responsibly, but also discretely.

Ultimately, we answered the question of can you be fired for looking for another job with a definite yes, but it’s unlikely unless you are breaking the rules in doing that.

If you are looking for a job while you are still employed it is tricky. Managers can take it personally and may try to punish you if they find out. Be covert during your job search, but remain respectful and focused on your current job.

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Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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