I was recently fired from my company for what they say is insubordination and disorderly conduct. I acted out one day as a result of my boss harassing me on the job. My boss said some things to me and I felt disrespected from what he had said and as a result kicked at an empty trash can resulting in it falling over. My boss also accused me of arguing with him when I wasnt and threatened to send me home because of it. He even followed me around the job watching me as I do my work to see if I would make a mistake to further justify his attempts to send me home. At the end of the day he called his boss and got his boss involved in it saying to his boss that he feels I acted in a way because i was told to do something and I didnt really want to do what i was told. I was then fired as a result
You have heard from two California-based lawyers (both of whom have accurately stated the situation) and I am merely chiming in, as a Pennsylvania-based employment lawyer to reiterate the validity of what you have been told (despite your comments, all of which reinforce what has been said).
Pennsylvania is an at-will state in which you can be terminated at any time for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. You can be terminated because your employer requires you to stand on your head and spit nickels, but all you can muster are dimes. Disagreeing with a supervisor or coworker is one of the best ways to find yourself unemployed.
Unlawful harassment is *only* harassment which is "severe and pervasive" and is based upon your sex, age (over 40), a disability, national origin, religion or race. You have raised none of these issues. Even without assessing whether you were at fault for what happened (and, frankly, it appears you are) you have no legal recourse, and, yes, insubordination may just get you knocked off the UC rolls as well, especially in PA where the bureau is making it increasingly difficult to secure benefits.
In fact, even if the harassment were based upon any of the protected classifications I mentioned, your arguing with your boss could well serve as a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for your termination, and could effectively take your employer off the hook for unlawful discrimination.
What happened may not have been fair; it might not even have been reasonable; but that doesn't mean it was unlawful.
It sounds as though the grounds for your termination were legitimate and appropriate, based on what you describe. Also, what you perceive as "harassment"--the apparent disrespectful statements from your boss--is not harassment in the legal sense. If, for example, these statements related to some legally protected characteristic you possess (e.g., disability, gender, race, color, etc.), were especially derogatory, and happened quite frequently (even before the fateful incident that got you terminated), then perhaps you would have a viable claim of harassment under the law. If your boss' statements were merely criticisms your work performance (fair or unfair), they would not be considered harassment in the legal sense.
In any event, you need to take accountability for your (admitted) inappropriate actions and move forward.
Mr. Kased has provided a clear and entirely accurate statement of the law applicable to your employment.
You work in an at-will state and your employer has a lawful right to terminate you for any reason under the sun -- or even for no reason whatsoever -- unless the reason is specifically prohibited by state or federal law. In this case, your own description of the facts on which your termination was based serves as ample legal justification for your employer's decision and action to terminate you.
It is irrelevant under the law how your conduct is labeled. So, here, your employer could terminate you for kicking a trashcan, being rude and impatient with a supervisor, being unreceptive to direction and supervision, being antagonistic to a colleague or supervisor -- the list of bases for justification of the termination decision here is potentially pages long. Any one of them is sufficient under the law. You can call it insubordination. Or you can call it bad attitude, or just call it personal animosity and dislike. You can even call it irrational personal prejudice -- makes no difference at all to the legal analysis and result.
You should also know that in an at will employment state, a termination is lawful even if the employer is wrong about the reason, and even if the employer's belief about the reason is unreasonable. What that means is that even if you weren't the employee who kicked the trashcan, you can still be fired for kicking the trashcan. No warning or advance "write-up" is required by the law; no proof is required; the employer is not even required to investigate the matter. The plain fact is that your employer could lawfully terminate you for the look in your eye or the tone of your voice, just one word into the incident that you describe. Or the employer could terminate you that day just because someone doesn't like you -- totally legal unless the dislike is based on your race, gender, age, etc.
Your sequence of comments to Mr. Kased's correct responses indicates that you have a very difficult time accepting or respecting instruction, direction or decisions by others. That problem may have made itself felt in your most recent employment and may have played a part in the general assessment of you. That, in turn, may be something for you to think about in your next employment.
As for all of the big lawsuits that you have read about, those inevitably are based on lengthy litigation or negotiations that ultimately proved that the employer's conduct was in violation of a legal requirement -- usually one involving "protected" classifications such as race, gender, etc. Nothing in your factual summary indicates that such protected classification played any part in the decision to terminate you.
By all means, consult with one or more local employment litigators for a fuller and more specific analysis of your matter. But go to such consultation understanding that you are an at-will employee and that is the largest and most significant fact of the matter.
And make your application for unemployment benefits even if you anticipate that the employer will contest it. The decision as to your entitlement for UI benefits is an entirely separate decision from the determination of the legality of your termination.
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