You might feel that you have cannot be fired without a good reason. Many people feel the same way. But the brutal truth is that you can be fired for any reason or no reason. This is due to the employment at will rule. In order to understand this rule better, lets take a look at a real word example at America’s favorite company – Apple.
An Apple iPhone engineer was fired because he allowed his daughter to vlog about the yet unreleased iPhone X. The daughter, Brooke Peterson, visited her dad at Apple’s offices in Cupertino, California in September. Her dad showed her a prototype of the new iPhone X over lunch at the Mac Cafe. She filmed the phone and some of its features and then published the video on Youtube. At the time, her Youtube channel had very few followers but the video went viral after it was discovered.
Ms. Peterson removed the video as soon as Apple asked, but it was too late. It had spread across the internet. Then she published another video on her personal Youtube channel explaining her screw up. She was truly sorry, but her dad was unemployed.
Apple expressly prohibits filming at their offices and is famously secret about releasing details of new products. The video breached Apple’s confidentiality rules.
Was the firing legal?
Yes, Apple was free to fire the engineer because he allowed a family member to violate company rules. The engineer was an employee at will which means Apple could fire him for any reason, or no reason. But Apple had a good reason to fire him.
The Employment at Will Rule
This is a good example of the employment at will rule in action. The employment at will rule provides that an employee can be fired at any time, for any reason. Likewise, an employee is free to quit their job at any time, for any reason. It’s a two way street. Both employee and employer are free to end the employment relationship at will. People often think that a company needs a good reason to fire an employee or that fairness is required. The reality is that employees can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all. Fairness is not required. It might seem unfair to fire the Apple engineer over his daughter’s mistake, but it was perfectly legal. Apple had every right to fire the engineer because he broke their rules.
What should the engineer do now? Call Samsung or Google to see if they are hiring phone engineers. The engineer should be free to work for a competitor like Samsung because non-compete agreements are illegal in California.
This story got a lot of attention in the press. Here are few more posts on the topic.