You know you can be fired for mouthing off to the boss, missing performance targets, or consistently blowing off your work responsibilities. But those aren’t the only work mistakes that can land in you in the unemployment line. In a world where most employers can fire employees at will, even minor errors can jeopardize your job.
“An at-will employment arrangement gives both the employer and the employee the ability to end the employment relationship at any time,” Patricia Hunt Sinacole, president of HR consulting firm First Beacon Group, wrote in the Boston Globe. “However, your employer still needs to be careful of other employment laws.”
Those “other employment laws” include rules prohibiting companies from firing people because of their race or gender and protecting whistle blowers from retaliation. Still, companies are generally free to give employees the boot, even for seemingly small infractions.
Breaking the rules listed in the company handbook is one way to get yourself shown the door. So is bending the unwritten rules of the workplace. Your company may not have an official policy forbidding you from disparaging the CEO, but if your candid words make their way back to the wrong person, your job could be on the chopping block.
The ease with which you can be fired is a good reason to tread cautiously at the office. Before you swipe a ream of printer paper or decide to stream the next episode of Luke Cage during lunch, make sure you’re familiar with these five work mistakes that can get you fired.
1. Stealing paper clips
Stealing company property is a big no-no. Still, you might think helping yourself to some office supplies or poaching a few rolls of toilet paper will be overlooked But if someone catches on to your misdeeds, you could be in a tight spot, especially if your boss already has you on his list of problem employees.
Only one in 10 employees CareerBuilder surveyed in 2006 fessed up to stealing, but 38% of HR managers said they’d had to fire someone for workplace theft. Office supplies were the most commonly pilfered items, followed by cash and merchandise.
2. Watching Netflix
Streaming services like Netflix make it easy to catch up on episodes of your favorite shows while you’re at the office. Some 64% of American workers confess to occasionally viewing videos while they work. Multitasking mavens may think they can watch TV and work at the same time, but the boss may not agree. Even using your own phone or tablet may not be enough to shield you if you’re using the company’s network or your boss thinks you’re distracted from your work.
A third of companies have fired employees for misusing company technology, Entrepreneur reported. That can include anything from spending too much time browsing the internet to viewing porn to watching sports highlights during your break. While some employers might be flexible in how you use your work computer or your time, others will see your commitment to watching past seasons of Dexter as you work as an excuse to let you go, especially if you have other performance issues.
3. Dating a co-worker or client
You can’t help who you fall in love with, but if your new boyfriend or girlfriend is a co-worker, beware. Not all companies look kindly on office romances. Thirty-seven percent of people have dated a colleague, and one-quarter of those have gotten involved with a superior, a recent CareerBuilder survey found. Yet 2 out of 5 people said they weren’t aware whether their company had a policy on such relationships.
Some companies have a blanket ban on co-workers dating. Others prohibit a boss from getting involved with subordinates. Even if the relationship is OK, you might have to disclose it to HR, according to HR Daily Advisor. Running afoul of any of these policies could land you in trouble and jeopardize your job. Ditto if you start dating a client, especially if you’re in a position of trust, like a lawyer or counselor.
“If you’re in a situation where no relationships are allowed, there’s no grey there,” Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder, told Fox Business. “If you make that choice, know that there’s a big risk if you get found out. You could get fired.”
4. Calling out your company
Don’t like your employer? You may want to be careful who you tell. Workers at Google, Yelp, and Chipotle have all been fired for speaking their mind about the company they worked for. A high-level Google employee lost his job after airing his critical opinions in a private Facebook group. The Yelp employee was dismissed after writing an open letter venting about low pay.
Not all those firings are legal. Chipotle violated labor laws when it fired an employee who complained publicly about low wages and working conditions, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found. The fired Google worker also filed a complaint with the NLRB. Employees have a right to work together to improve their pay and working conditions, and employers who fire them for doing so may be breaking the law. Still, some companies will retaliate against workers who they see as troublemakers. And you’re definitely not protected if your complaints are of the generic, “I hate my boss” variety.
5. Speaking to the media
Talking to the media without your employer’s consent can get you fired. In 2015, Shanna Tippen, a housekeeper at a Days Inn in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, lost her job after talking to a Washington Post reporter about how difficult it was to work for minimum wage. (Never mind that it was the hotel manager who suggested the reporter interview Tippen in the first place.) A transgender woman in Salt Lake City says she was fired after talking to the Associated Press about workplace discrimination. In Jackson, Mississippi, a public works employee was fired after letting reporters know he’d found lead in the city’s water system.
“[A]nswering a question when a reporter sticks a microphone in your face or identifying yourself as an employee of the company when sharing your personal opinions online … creates the perception that you’re speaking as a representative of the company, even when you aren’t trying to, and that’s definitely something that can get you fired,” Travis Bradberry, president of TalentSmart, wrote in an article for Entrepreneur.