"Unfair" is really not a legal question. The question is whether any law prevents your employer from disciplining you based on what you believe is a weak accusation. Without any reason why not, your employer can do so.
Generally, your employer can discipline you for any reason, regardless of how irrational. The employer would only have to defend that discipline should you say that the discipline is just a cover-up for something unlawful or if your employer terminated you and you sought unemployment benefits.
I completely understand how unfair this is! Unfortunately, employees and job applicants have very few employment rights, and employers have a lot of leeway in how they choose to run their businesses. In general, an employer can be unfair, obnoxious or bad at management. And an employer can make decisions based on faulty or inaccurate information. An employer has no obligation to warn an employee that he or she is not performing as the employer wants. It’s not a level playing field. An employer hires employees to provide work for its benefit, not for the benefit of the employees. Don't expect the employer to take care of its employees; it doesn’t have to and it rarely does.
There are some limitations on what an employer can do, mostly in the areas of public policy (such as discrimination law or whistle blowing), contract law, union-employer labor relations, and constitutional due process for government employees. Please see my guide to at-will employment in California which should help you understand employment rights: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/an-overview-of-at-will-employment-all-states. After you take a look at the guide, you may be able to identify actions or behavior that fits one of the categories that allows for legal action. If so, an experienced plaintiffs employment attorney may be helpful.
Now with a better understanding of your limited legal rights, consider a strategic solution instead. If you have not (yet) been fired, try hard to prevent that; convincing an employer to reverse an action already taken is difficult.
Consider tackling this directly, professionally and respectfully. Understand the company may have misunderstood events or perhaps felt there was something wrong with your work but never told you. Ask to speak with HR. Ask if you’ve done something indicating you are a poor worker or if the employer thinks you were responsible for something that happened. Maybe something was misinterpreted, though probably not. But if so, you can explain your side. More likely you will never know what is really going on. However, a mature conversation may change the way the employer treats you and may cause a change in the decision.
Whatever you do, don't challenge the employer’s authority. Indicate you want to continue your working relationship and value your job. Explain you care about doing a good job. Mention your good work record if you have one. Explain you would never intentionally do anything against the company's or your boss' interest.
Do not blame anyone else even if you believe someone deserves it; this cannot help you. Only talk about yourself, that you want to do a good job, and you regret the situation. Ask what you can do to improve things for the future. Don't give anyone a reason to get angry.
The company may see you more favorably after this. Even if it doesn’t save your job, it may prevent a fight about unemployment and might get you a good job reference.
I know it's annoying to have to do this when you didn't do anything wrong, but remember, an employer doesn't need a reason to fire you. And as we all know, the current economy is tough and jobs are hard to come by.
Employment rights come from the state and federal legislatures. One of the best things people can do to improve their employment rights is vote for candidates with a good record on pro-employee, anti-corporate legislation. Another way to protect employment rights is to form or affiliate with a union, or participate in a union already in place.
I hope you can resolve your situation and wish you the best.
twitter.com/MikaSpencer *** All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. *** Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California, and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis. ***
As grossly unfair as it seems, I completely agree with my colleagues that you have no recourse for your employer disciplining you based on the false statements of a third person. Employers are allowed to be irrational, unreasonable and unfair. Employers can act without any investigation, or after carrying out a grossly inadequate investigation. Unless you can prove this unfair treatment is because you are a member of a protected class of people, or because you engaged in legally protected conduct, you really have no recourse.
I wish you the very best of luck.
This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.