Updated October 27, 2020:

What Does Terminated Mean?

If you’re wondering, “what does terminated mean,” being terminated is the last and final step at which point the employee’s position ends, and the relationship between the employer and employee is severed. In simple terms, the employee will no longer be working for the company. Termination can be either voluntary or involuntary. In addition, an employee can be terminated for cause or laid-off. For cause means that he or she is being fired for a specific reason, generally a behavioral-related reason. Being laid-off means that the work is no longer needed.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Termination

Termination can occur for a number of reasons. Most importantly, termination is either voluntary or involuntary. If the termination is voluntary, that simply means that the employee is choosing to resign on his or her own. Resignation can occur if the employee has a new job, is moving to another area, returning to school, or retiring.

Unlike voluntary termination or resignation, involuntary termination is usually the result of an employer's dissatisfaction with an employee or an economic downturn, at which point the employee is either terminated or laid-off.

Reasons for Termination

  • Employee performance
  • Attendance problems
  • Theft of a colleague’s personal belongings
  • Theft of intellectual property belonging to the employer
  • Insubordination
  • Failure to abide by company policy
  • Violence or threats
  • Sexual harassment
  • Ethical issues
  • Falsifying information
  • Watching pornography

Mutual Termination

There are some instances when the employer and employee both realize that the relationship is not a good fit. Such parties will generally agree on an exit strategy; the employer will also agree to provide the employee with a favorable recommendation in the event that any future potential employers reach out to inquire about the employee.

Warning Letters

Most employers will follow specific procedures when choosing to terminate the employee. All problems will need to be addressed and documented before terminating the employee. However, if an employee is being terminated due to egregious reasons, i.e. Sexual harassment, theft, etc., then the problem will be documented and the termination will generally occur immediately thereafter. If an employee has performance issues regarding the position, then those problems will first be documented and addressed.

The employee will be advised that the performance must improve within a specific time frame. During this time, the employee will be provided with a warning letter, which was will detail the problematic performance or behavior, what needs to be changed and improved, and what happens if such improvement does not occur. Some companies first provide a verbal warning before a written warning, depending on the severity of the circumstances.

At-Will Employment

Employers need not provide a reason for terminating an employee in an ‘at-willemployee agreement. ‘At-will’ simply means that the employee can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. There are no laws to protect those who are wrongfully or unfairly terminated based on ‘at-will’ contracts unless the terminated employee brings about a wrongful termination lawsuit, which is usually based on discrimination, i.e. age, race, religious, or gender discrimination.

Other reasons to bring a wrongful termination suit are due to retaliation or payback on the part of the employer (i.e. whistleblowing) or the refusal to commit an illegal act on the part of the employer. Such dismissal is also illegal on the part of the employer if the company doesn’t follow its own termination procedures. If the employee does in fact bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against an employer, and subsequently wins the case, he or she may either receive monetary compensation for being wrongfully dismissed or may in fact be reinstated back into the company. Moreover, the employer may also be charged punitive damages for wrongfully terminating the employee.

Unemployment Benefits

After an employee is terminated involuntarily, he can file for unemployment. Unemployment, however, is not automatically given to the former employee; it is rather a process in which the terminated employee must submit an application and speak to an unemployment representative regarding the facts and circumstances of the termination. However, if the termination, while involuntary, is due to lay-offs, then the employee will likely be provided with a severance pay package in which 2-12 months of pay is awarded to the employee, depending on the company, position, annual income, and length of time with the company.

If you need help determining whether or not you were wrongfully terminated, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.