I was fired recently, being accused of stealing a customers gift card for my own use. Customer actually gave it to me as a Christmas gift. This is frowned upon but not clearly stated in the employee manual as a reason for termination. My co worker who called me in has since bragged about getting me fired. Do I have a leg to stand on?
This is a form of unfairness for which the law does not provide any recourse. Almost all nonunion workers are employed "at will," which means the employer can legally fire you at any time, and for any reason or no reason at all. Since the employer can legally fire you for no reason at all, it can also fire you for doing something that is frowned upon, but not technically against the rules.
I agree with Ms. Baker's answer, but I wanted add some information about defamation to address the second part of your question.
Defamation (sometimes called “libel,” if it’s written, or “slander” if it’s oral) requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant: (1) maliciously, (2) published, (3) a false statement, (4) that was defamatory, and (5) that the publication resulted in damages.
In your situation, you clearly have no case for defamation against your employer. However, you may technically have a claim against the co-worker, depending on exactly what she said to management.
In addition to the problems you might have proving that the co-worker's statement was what convinced management to terminate you, you would also have a major problem because of the "common interest privilege."
The common interest privilege protects otherwise defamatory statements made (1) in good faith, (2) on a subject in which the party communicating has an interest, or in reference to which he has, or honestly believes he has, a duty to a person having a corresponding interest or duty, (3) to a person who has such a corresponding interest.
Two circumstances foreclose asserting the privilege: first, excessive publication, defined as publication to those with no common interest in the information communicated, or publication not reasonably calculated to protect or further the interest; and, second, publication with malice, which, within the context of the common interest privilege, is the equivalent of bad faith. While the defendant bears the burden of proving the elements of the common interest privilege, the burden of defeating the privilege by showing excessive publication or publication with malice lies with the plaintiff.
I'm licensed to practice law only in Indiana, so if you're in another state, I can't give you "legal" advice. My answer is simply "friendly" advice based on my experience as an attorney in Indiana, my knowledge of federal and common law, and common sense. Even if you are in Indiana, employment law questions are very fact specific, and based on the limited information you provided in your post, I can't give you legal advice, and my answer is intended as general information only. It doesn't create an attorney-client relationship.
Absent an employment contract or unlawful discrimination, you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all.
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