Prepare for a rainy day if you’re an employee at will


Can you be fired for wearing the wrong color at work? Believe it or not, it’s happening.

There’s a story out of Deerfield Beach near Ft. Lauderdale that has caught the public imagination. At a law firm, some workers were called into a conference room. One of the executives told the assembled group he believed there was a protest against management practices at the firm and they were all being fired.

The 14 people who were canned all happened to be wearing orange. So the law firm decided their clothing choice was a silent protest!

After firing them, the executive told them if anybody was wearing orange for an innocent reason to speak up. It turned out that several of the employees said they liked going to Happy Hour after work and wore orange so they could spot each other in a crowded bar. Others maybe had a favorite team with orange as mascot colors.

“There is no office policy against wearing orange shirts. We had no warning. We got no severance, no package, no nothing,” one employee told a Florida paper. The law firm for its part won’t speak to the media about the episode.

Employment at will and preparing for the future

This is an instructive lesson for anybody. As a typical rule in most places in the U.S., you serve at will. That means your employer can call you in with no notice and tell you that your services are no longer needed. They are not required to give any reason for firing you under employment at will.

We don’t work in a society anymore like we did two generations ago where people spent an entire lifetime working for one company.

I remember when I worked at IBM during grad school as a bill collector. The joke was IBM stood for “I’ve been moved.” Employees basically signed up for a lifetime hitch and they were moved around the country every three to four years.

I was there right around the time that IBM was transitioning away from that concept of you signing up for lifetime employment. Today, of course, it doesn’t work that way anymore at all — even at what was considered one of the most paternalistic companies in the entire country.


So you have to be prepared for the fact that employers rent us and we rent them. We generally seek the best opportunity we can and employers don’t look at us as someone who will be there with permanence. If they did, we wouldn’t have moved away from the idea of pensions that are stationary to 401(k) plans that can follow you around as you move from company to company.

As for those employees of the law firm, they have no rights as far as I know, though I’m not a lawyer.

You need to be prepared for the possibility that with no notice there may be no job anymore. You have to have the rainy day prepared for because the rainy day does eventually come — in all different shapes and sizes. Even in colors of clothing!

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