Have a general question about employment law? Want to share a story? I welcome all comments and questions. I can't give legal advice here about specific situations but will be glad to discuss general issues and try to point you in the right direction. If you need legal advice, contact an employment lawyer in your state. Remember, anything you post here will be seen publicly, and I will comment publicly on it. It will not be confidential. Govern yourself accordingly. If you want to communicate with me confidentially as Donna Ballman, Florida lawyer rather than as Donna Ballman, blogger, my firm's website is here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Don’t Make These 10 Easily Avoidable Mistakes That Can Get You Fired

One of my greatest frustrations as an employee-side employment lawyer is that many people come to me after being fired because they made mistakes they could have easily avoided. Don’t lose your job over a stupid mistake. In raising children, my husband and I periodically note, “Things we shouldn’t have to say, but apparently do.” We’ve put, “Don’t eat the snail you found on the porch,” “Don’t cut a chunk out of your sister’s hair,” “Don’t put the cat in the clothes hamper,” and “Don’t write on your feet” in this category. (I understand silly product warnings more clearly since I’ve had kids).

Since I’ve seen these situations over and over again, even though they should be obvious, clearly some things don’t go without saying, even to working adults.

Here are 10 things you should not (emphasize, NOT) do if you don’t want to be fired:

1. Cursing: I’ve met dozens of employees who were fired over using the f-bomb or other curse words at work. Don’t assume that, just because supervisors curse like sailors, you can get away with having a potty mouth. Avoid curse words at work, especially with supervisors and customers.

2. Arguments With Customers: The customer is always right. If you have a customer who is being rude or abusive, get a supervisor involved. Don’t argue, curse, yell or be abusive to any customer.

3. Arguments With Supervisors: No, you can’t call your supervisor stupid or unprofessional and expect not to be fired. You can’t curse, threaten or throw things at your supervisor. Did I really have to say this? Apparently I did.

4. No-Show: If you’re sick, going to be late, or need medical leave, follow the company’s policy on calling it in. Do it within the required time and call or contact the person you’re required to call. Don’t just no-show. Don’t leave a message with a coworker. Don’t leave voice mail or email and assume it’s okay. Follow up and make sure the message was received if you can’t get the person on the phone the first time. If you’re so sick you can’t call, make sure a family member or friend calls. Check your schedule. Find out when you're supposed to return from a suspension or medical leave. 90% of life is showing up (loosely quoting Woody Allen).

5. Failing To Take Calls From A Supervisor: If your supervisor is calling you, especially if you’re out sick, don’t fail to pick up and answer. Why would anyone do this? I can’t even fathom, but it happens all the time. If your supervisor is interfering with your FMLA leave, take the call and then report them to HR. But take the call.

6. Failing To Respond To Email: If you have a company email address, check your messages. If a customer or a supervisor emails you, respond right away. Don’t let them pile up and fail to respond.

7. Failing To Respond To Voice Mail: Same as email, don’t let your voice mailbox fill up. Check your messages regularly and respond.

8. Guns At Work: Yes, Florida has a take-your-guns-to-work law. So do other states. The law says you can have a legally-permitted concealed weapon locked in your vehicle. That doesn’t mean you can take your gun onto work premises. Lock it up before you leave the house. Better yet, don’t take it. Employers are still squirrelly about guns, and I don’t particularly blame them. The law has lots of hoops and limitations. Why risk it?

9. Moonlighting: Many employers consider getting a second job (or getting a second job with a customer or competitor) to be a conflict of interest. Make sure you review the company’s policies carefully before accepting a second job.

10. Not Taking Responsibility: You have a responsibility to take care of your own stuff. That means knowing the rules, keeping track of your hours, calling in when required, and finding out when you’re expected to return from a suspension or medical leave. You are responsible for making sure you’ve provided any medical documentation needed, filled out FMLA forms and jumped through the employer’s hoops in any situation. You are responsible for understand how you are being paid. That means understanding any hourly rate, commission structure, salary, draw, or other pay plan. I can’t tell you how many people I encounter who have no idea how much they are owed or how they were being paid. That’s completely irresponsible.

I can probably think up dozens more after 27 years of practice, but these are the ones that come to mind as frequent problems. Don’t make my colleagues or me shake my head and ask, “What were you thinking?” Be responsible. Be an adult. This is your life we’re talking about. It’s important.

For more on easily avoidable mistakes, take a look at my article 10 Workplace Rights You Think You Have – But Don’t.


  1. 10a. Taking responsibility also includes when you screw up. You WILL screw up multiple times during your career unless you're some kind of super robot that's incapable of failure. Own your mistakes; if possible, fix them immediately and tell your supervisor that you made the mistake along with what you did to fix it. If you don't know how to fix it, talk to your supervisor. This will nearly always result in significantly fewer problems than if someone else finds the mistake later on.

  2. If my supervisor calls me and I'm out sick, chances are I'm sleeping. I am not and will never be someone who jumps to the phone when it rings, and when I'm off I'm off. I'll get back to my supervisor and anyone else who calls when I am not at work.

    This has worked during my 30 years of working. I'm not owned by my employer.

  3. Having launched my own recruitment and employment agency (Oakland House Recruitment LTD), I found your post to be extremely refreshing.

    I'm struggling with marketing and advertising my services thus far; but I believe you've gave me some further insight into the industry that I can now use! Thanks!

  4. My husbands company has been writing him up for basically everything. From looking at someone in a way that supposedly made her uncomfortable to not making rate even when he has been injured on the job. He has requested a copy of all his warnings but they won't give him one. Is there anything he can do to make them give him a copy?


I appreciate your comments and general questions but this isn't the place to ask confidential legal questions. If you need an employee-side employment lawyer, try http://exchange.nela.org/findalawyer to locate one in your state.