It’s the sad truth living in New York City, a population in the millions, but you so often hear of the story of someone who was working (rather happily) and was suddenly fired – this news coming as a total surprise. In reality, this subjectively perceived status quo was chock full of warning signs. Upon closer examination and in hindsight, the employee recognizes these signs, but unfortunately, it’s too late to proactively address them by either looking for another job or taking corrective measures.

This article explores eight distinct warning signs of an employee who is on the path to termination. The purpose of this article is for you to be on the lookout for these signs and to preemptively tackle them before it’s too late.

What to Look For If You Are Being Set Up For Termination

Although most employment in New York is “at will,” most employers are prudent in having proper documentation to demonstrate just cause in termination, although typically not required under law. When an employer can show there was just cause to terminate, the employer is more likely to be insulated from claims of discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Normally, employers try to build up cases for termination by documenting the employee’s fall from productive employee to the insubordinate, lazy, and ineffective former employee.

Here are a few situations that should trigger the termination antennae of an employee::

1. Your Supervisor Starts Expressing Unhappiness With You – A telling sign of an impending problem at work is any type of supervisor dissatisfaction with your work product. This can manifest in the form of oral criticism, sniping comments at department meetings, in an e-mail, in an internal memo or other communications. Whenever a supervisor expresses any form of discontent with you, you should take that as an early red flag that something needs to be corrected.

2. You Get Written Up – One major way for an employer to justify a termination is by way of documenting the how and why behind the termination. In the event an employee makes a mistake or breaks a company rule, it is not unusual for them to be written up with some kind of warning, corrective action or other form of documentation. If you are written up, and there is a good reason for that write up, it may be that the write up was appropriate and written in good faith to address the issue. Conversely, if you have been written up unjustifiably or if you were written up when an oral warning for something minor would have sufficed, that should raise an immediate concern that you’re on your way out.

3. The Escalation of Write-Ups – It is a significant red flag if you are written up more than once in a short period of time. Most supervisors decide they want someone terminated and then start writing them up for any little deviation. If you get written up more than once and the reasons seem rather petty, then you’re likely not remaining at your position for much longer.

4. You Get Excluded From The Group – You may now find yourself being excluded from meetings, lunches, get-togethers or events that are being held, which you have received no notice of. You’re being held off of emails, memos and the like. You inquire about whether this is a mistake but the repetitiveness and ongoing nature of the exclusion is apparent. The pejorative writing is on the wall, you’re probably being set up for termination

5. You get demoted – You were the leading a group of 10 and you’ve been asked to step down and take on the role of a subordinate – that’s the clear demotion. Alternatively, it can occur in subtle forms as well. Authority is slowing being removed; you have less reporting responsibilities, less duties and often times less work. These are telltale signs of a set up for termination.

6. Meetings are canceled – If you have scheduled weekly meetings with your supervisor that are now occurring monthly or not at all, this can be a sign that you’re no longer wanted at the company.

7. You’re Being Set Up To Fail – You’ve been given a list of assignments that you’re asked to complete in one week, but would typically take one month. This isn’t your supervisor giving you more responsibility because he/she has so much faith in your abilities, rather, your failure to complete this unreasonable demand is likely to become the reason you are being let go.

8. Totality of the Circumstances – If you see some of the aforementioned red flags, you should make sure you’re prepared to handle them proactively. At a minimum, it means something is off at work. However, if you are experiencing several of these, it probably means that you are targeted for termination. If so, you need to think about it, analyze what is happening and decide you are to proceed.

Options in Combatting Alleged Deficiencies at Work

It may be that the decision is made and it is just a matter of time before you are gone. If that is so, there is nothing you can do to avoid the termination and you should be looking for new employment. However, it may be that the red flags are just that – warnings that there are major problems that will lead to employment termination if things are not corrected.

Here are some ideas that you might consider if you do feel that you are being set up for termination:

1. Paper v. Paper – Whenever something bad is said about you in writing, respond and address it immediately. If it is wrong, say so. If the criticism is justified, admit it and promise to fix it. Regardless, you need to respond in the same format as the initial criticism (e-mail to e-mail, memo to memo, etc.) and you need to write to the same people who received the first criticism. It is always important to have your side of the story contemporaneously memorialized for what may later be a “paper war.”

2. What’s wrong– Another strategy is to sit down with your supervisor and determine why you are being targeted. Again, it may very well be that you are being unjustly targeted for termination. Conversely, you may be receiving you a warning for need of improvement. Open communications might tell you not only what is happening, but also what you may need to do to improve the outcome.

3. Fix the Problem – Although obvious, if there is a problem, fix it. Consider talking to co-workers, peers, customers or others about what you could do better, and then improve your performance.

4. Bring Some Value – Another way to prove your value would be to ensure you are irreplaceable. It may be that you are worth more than you think you are. Think about what you have brought to the company, whether in savings, efficiencies or other benefits and find some way to professionally brag about it.

5. Become Indispensable – Yet another approach might be to prove your value by reports, memos, attendance at meetings or other activity that visibly shows what you have brought to the company, how good a job you have been doing, and what a loss you would be if replaced.

6. Creativity – There are undoubtedly many other ideas that you can think of to enhance your position, improve your relationship with those you work with and increase your chances of preserving your job, and all you can do is try. It may be that it is too late, or it may be that you can still save your job. It’s best to put forth the effort.

7. Time to Say Goodbye – If the red flags are red enough, it is time to look elsewhere. It is always better, and usually easier, to lateral from job to job when you’re still employed.

8. Give Us a Ring – If the red flags are there, it is best to seek the counsel of a seasoned employment attorney. They may be able to assist you with strategies to prolong your employment or they help you develop and pursue a legal claim against your employer.

In today’s climate, it is challenging to find a job and sometimes even harder to be successful at it. If you start seeing the aforementioned red flags at work, be proactive and take steps to preserve your employment – it may make all the difference.


The information at this site has been prepared for general informational purposes only and is offered as a public service. Information on this site does not constitute legal advice and is presented without any representation or warranty whatsoever, including as to the accuracy or completeness of the information.

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