Can You Get Fired for Job Searching?
There are all kinds of reasons why you might be tempted to tell your boss that you’re looking for a new job. Maybe you like your current role, except for the paycheck, and hope that sharing your search might inspire the company to offer you a raise. Perhaps you’re close to your manager and feel weird about leaving them out of the loop. Or maybe you’re just fed up and would like to see leadership squirm a bit without having to wait for a new job offer.
After all, what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like they can fire you for job searching.
Except that it is like that. In most cases, your employer can absolutely terminate your job if they find out that you’re interviewing for other roles. Here’s why (and what to do instead).
How Your Job Hunt Can Get You Fired
If you’re like most U.S. workers, you’re employed at will, which means that you can be fired at any time, for almost any reason, without cause or notice. Private-sector employees in every state except Montana are considered at-will employees unless they’re covered by an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement.
So, unless you’re a member of a union or have a contract that explicitly states that you can’t be fired for job searching, you can be let go if your boss finds out you’re looking for a new gig.
What About Employment Discrimination?
Employment discrimination is against the law. However, the legal definition of employment discrimination is fairly narrow and covers only protected classes.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces laws that prohibit discriminating against employees or job candidates based on characteristics like race, color, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability, genetic information, and age (age 40 or older). The EEOC also protects you from retaliation if you’re a whistleblower, which usually means a current or former employee who complained about discrimination.
You may also have legal cover if you’ve joined in a protected activity like discussing wages with your co-workers. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from preventing workers from discussing their pay.
However, there are no federal legal protections regarding job searching. In most cases, employers will be within their rights to terminate your employment if they find out that you’re looking for a new job.
How To Job Search While You’re Employed
Looking for work while you’re employed means figuring out how to be discreet while applying and interviewing. Obviously, this can be pretty challenging if you work 9-to-5, especially if you’re expected to come into a physical office or workplace. But it’s doable.
Don’t Use Company Resources
According to Gartner, around 60% of large U.S. employers use employee monitoring software. These tools can show employers when workers log on and off, which sites and apps they visit, even how when and how much they’re using your keyboard or mouse. In most states, your employer doesn’t even have to tell you when they’re using these programs, which means that you may not know when you’re being watched. This makes life harder for sneaky job seekers who might otherwise answer recruiters’ messages or schedule interviews on company time.
To make sure your job hunt stays private, avoid using any company tools for your efforts. Ideally, this would mean sticking to after-work hours for job searching. But if your work schedule makes that challenging, at least be sure that you’re using your own phone and mobile devices to search for jobs, research employers, and communicate with hiring managers and recruiters.
If you’re used to using the company network while you’re in the office, now’s a good time to break that habit. Even if you’re on your own device, your employer may be able to see any information you transmit over their network.
Keep Your Job Search to Yourself
Having friends at the office makes the workday easier, more fun, even more productive. But no matter how close you are to your colleagues, think twice about sharing your job search with them. Not everyone is good at keeping secrets.
Avoid Lying (but Don’t Tell the Whole Truth)
One of the trickiest things to navigate during a secret job search is scheduling job interviews. If possible, it’s often best to use paid time off for this purpose. If you have paid vacation time, personal time, or some other non-sick-day time off, use it. When you do, be as vague as possible. No one is entitled to details about your personal life, regardless of whether you’re interviewing.
If you don’t have PTO, you’ll have to be trickier. Keep it simple and avoid lying when you can. Read up on company policy, so that you won’t be surprised by a request for a doctor’s note or other documentation.
Above all, remember that your ultimate loyalty should be to yourself and your career. Even the best employer would lay you off in a heartbeat if it were in their financial best interests. Be on your own side.