Your company asks you to do something illegal and you refuse. Should you be able to sue them for firing you?

It’s 1:40 AM on a Tuesday night (I guess Wednesday morning now), so what am I doing up?  I’m starting the nightshift at work tomorrow evening, so I’m flipping my sleep schedule upside down.  For the next six weeks or so, I’m going to be pulling 12-13 hour shifts working every night of the week except for every other Sunday.  Yes, my employer of pure evil is making me work a ton of hours.  How terrible of them—it’s not like I took this job knowing full well that this would happen.

Don’t feel badly for me, though.  The work I’ll be doing will be a great learning experience for me and many people at my company really enjoy this type of shift work.  And I can enjoy the benefits of staying up until 5 AM tonight by having everyone else in the house asleep while I do whatever the heck I want for a few hours.  This involves me starting a big pot of chili at 3 AM that will be able to cook for about 14 hours before I’m ready to eat it before I go to work for the night.

So what relevance does all of this have to do with liberty?  Well, when talking to some friends about my upcoming schedule, a few of them replied with “They can do that?”  When I asked what they meant, they said “Make you work that much.”

I never thought about whether or not my company was “allowed” to make me work long hours like this.  I just accepted it as a condition of employment in the industry in which I work.  And there is a law that prevents me from working more than 14 days in a row, but if I had to work 6 weeks in a row without a day off, I’d do it.  If I want the job I have, then I have to deal with all that it entails.  Especially in today’s crummy economy, there’d be plenty of people lined up to take it from me if I felt I was being asked to do too much.

This got me thinking: how much is a company allowed to ask you to do?  Should it be illegal for a company to ask you to do something morally wrong or otherwise break the law?

Of course it’s not legal to have someone do something illegal for you.  But if my company asked me to perform some illegal act, would I have the right to sue them if they fired me for refusing?  Should I have that right?  Let’s put this into a real-world scenario…

You work at some sort of manufacturing plant in quality control.  Your manager approaches you and informs you that the company has decided to use a knockoff material in their product but still continue to say that the genuine material is used.  He instructs you to sign off on the paperwork that states the materials that are supposed to be used.  In other words, you’re being asked to commit fraud.

You have a few choices.  The first choice is to do what your manager says and if caught either accept the responsibility for committing the fraud or shoot the blame up the ladder to your management and hope that you escape blame.  The second choice is to refuse, but you’ve been threatened that that would end with you being fired.

The choices you have are pretty bad.  One choice will definitely leave you without a job while the other could very well land you in prison.  In terms of avoiding the loss of your job and freedom, the best thing that could happen is that no one ever figures out the fraud and/or it never gets traced back to you, but you still know you did wrong and that you cheated people out of their hard-earned money.

You’re a person of high moral standing, so you go to your manager and inform him that you will not be committing any fraud and refuse to engage in any practices as such.  And then he fires you.  Should you then have the right to sue your company in order to either get paid the damages or to get your job back?  They are the ones, not you, asking you to do something illegal.  They’re the ones putting you into the compromising situation.

Before I answer the question, let’s look at the issue a bit differently.  Let’s say you do some handyman work for a neighbor every so often.  One day, he pulls you aside and offers you an opportunity at some more money.  He wants you to be a hitman (yes, this is extreme, but I’m trying to drive a point home).  If you refuse, the side work as a handyman will disappear.  Being paid to be an assassin is clearly illegal according to nearly every society ever and is pretty morally corrupt.  It would be pretty easy for most people to say no to this offer.  So, let me ask the question again: do you have the right to sue your employer?

In the first scenario, I would imagine that most people would be okay with forcing the company to take its employee back if he were fired for not committing the illegal activity.  In the second case, I don’t think nearly as many would.  Instead of saying “They have no right to make you do that,” they would say “You need to run away and run away fast from people asking you to do that kind of thing!”

That second reaction is the reaction that should occur in all situations like this.  First of all, why would you want to work for someone (make them money) that wants you to commit a crime?

Secondly, and more importantly, your employment is a mutual agreement between you and the originator of the job, so you do not have the right to your job.  Regardless of the reasons for disagreeing about the terms of employment, both parties have the right to end the relationship as long as that doesn’t violate the terms of any contract that may have been signed.

Why should your history with your employer or the filling out of a W-2 form have anything to do with changing the rights of the parties involved in making contracts and other agreements?  Why should the legality of the job description affect those rights?  If your company decided that you have to wear a bowtie every day in order to keep your job, you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) have the right to sue them if they fire you for refusing this new directive.

Just remember, this is all a two-way street.  If you have the right to sue for losing your job for whatever reason, you would then give the company the right to sue you for damages for resigning from your position for whatever reason.

Maybe your company doesn’t ask you to do something illegal, but it is something that is against your personal morals.  You decide to leave the job instead of compromise your beliefs.  Should the company be allowed to sue you for the damages incurred because they lost you as an employee?


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'Your company asks you to do something illegal and you refuse. Should you be able to sue them for firing you?' have 5 comments

  1. February 6, 2013 @ 3:44 am MaikU

    It depends on the contract, but you are not entitled to a job so you can’t sue them and demand to bring you back and company isn’t entitled to a slave. But again, it is all about written contract. Of course I am speaking from free market prespective, where there is no State monopoly to regulate and tax people.

    Reply

    • February 6, 2013 @ 5:20 pm Cornwall Hoggins

      Yes I agree that it depends on the contract. Alot of companies have whistleblower rules (it may even be, your favorite word, “law”, to have this rule) that say you cannot get fired (or even mistreated in any way) for reporting fraud. I think the difference here is that you are saying you don’t report the fraud, you just choose to not go along with it, and then get fired. So that means if you do not want to be associated with a company that commits fraud, I would think you would leave anyway. If you want to be compensated for leaving, then report the fraud, get fired, and sue away. I would much rather it be a contract than a law, but regardless, looks like you can sue if that’s the way the company runs.

      Reply

  2. March 4, 2013 @ 5:28 pm Steve

    Interesting concept. I think another way to look at it would be from the perspective of an illicit enterprise, like the mafia. If the godfather instructs you to break someone’s legs, you can’t refuse and then sue him for kicking you out of the family. Ofcourse in that scenario I doubt being “fired” is your primary concern when you disobey a mob boss.

    Reply

  3. February 12, 2014 @ 9:48 pm “That’s just theory” is an admission of cognitive dissonance | Inside McFloogle's Mind

    […] Just in case you actually come here somewhat regularly, you might have noticed I haven’t been around much, and that’s because I’m in the middle of working 12+ hour shifts for a month.  This is the same work that inspired me just over a year ago to write our most popular article where I ask the question if you can sue your company for firing you if you refuse to engage in some …. […]

    Reply

  4. August 6, 2014 @ 2:12 pm Violet

    I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I’m not sure whether this post is written by him as no one else know such
    detailed about my problem. You are amazing!
    Thanks!

    Reply


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