Can You Be Fired for Quiet Quitting?

Shot of an unhappy businesswoman holding her box of belongings after getting fired from her job.
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The working world has come up with a kinder and gentler term for what used to be called “goofing off” on the job — “quiet quitting.” What it basically means is that an employee does the bare minimum at work while still collecting a paycheck. It’s not “quitting” in terms of walking off the job, but more like putting in the least amount of effort required to fulfill your duties.

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As CBS News reported this week, quiet quitting has become quite the thing on social media sites like LinkedIn and TikTok, where debate has raged over whether quietly quitting is a good thing or a bad thing.

Many career coaches and executives caution against the practice because it reflects poorly on a worker’s job performance. Meanwhile, many workers defend it as a way of pushing back against employers that want more work without offering more pay. On TikTok alone the hashtag “quietly quitting” has garnered more than 13 million views, according to the Marketplace website.

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“People see ‘quiet’ and ‘quitting’ and they think it’s about quitting, but really what quiet quitting means is someone who has decided, ‘I want to prioritize my well-being overall and things outside of work’,” Elise Freedman, senior client partner at consulting firm Korn Ferry, told CBS MoneyWatch.

Quietly quitting doesn’t necessarily mean a worker is disengaged on the job, Freedman added. Instead, they might focus only on what is required of them without putting in any additional effort, such as agreeing to work nights and weekends or volunteering to help out with an important project.

But others are less generous with their assessment of quietly quitting, suggesting that it’s just a dressed-up way of saying certain workers aren’t carrying their load.

One thing many agree on is that it’s no coincidence that the movement gained momentum during the “Great Resignation,” in which millions of Americans have walked away from their jobs either to find something better or simply because they’ve grown tired of the grind. This has contributed to a labor shortage that has given workers more leverage to demand higher pay and better working conditions.

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Younger workers are more likely than older ones to practice quietly quitting, CBS News reported. It cited an August survey of 1,000 employees conducted by ResumeBuilder.com, which found that roughly 30% of workers between 25 and 34 said they’re doing the bare minimum at work vs. just 8% of workers over 54. 

If you’re wondering whether you can be fired for adopting a “quietly quitting” mindset on the job, the short answer is yes, you probably can. Employers still have a great deal of latitude when it comes to dismissing workers for not pulling their weight on the job.

Every state except Montana has adopted an at-will employment policy that lets them fire an employee at any time for any reason as long as it doesn’t break federal or state employment laws, according to the Smithey Law Group, which specializes in labor and employment law. It estimates that roughly 74% of the U.S. workforce falls under the category of at-will employees, meaning that most can be fired for poor performance.

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There are exceptions, however, including the following:

  • If the employee has an employment contract that in some way exempts them from being fired solely for poor performance.
  • If the employee works in the public sector (these are not generally considered at-will employees)
  • If the employee is part of a union that has a collective contract that exempts them from the at-will status.

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Find: 5 Ways to Get Your Old Job Back if You Regret Your ‘Great Resignation’

Employers are not allowed to fire someone based on discrimination or any legally protected status, which means they must provide proof that a worker’s poor performance – including quietly quitting — justified their termination.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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