Common ways smart people lose their jobs

Caroline Banton, GOBankingRates
Tom Cruise talks on a phone in a scene from 'Jerry Maguire,' a film in which his character is fired from a job at a sports management agency.
Columbia TriStar | Getty Images

Intelligent people can lose their jobs for silly reasons. While some of the mistakes are due to momentary lapses, others result from serious judgement problems.

Pulling a 'sickie' and posting about your day on Facebook

Pretending to be sick and sharing your "Ferris Bueller" experience on social media demonstrates poor judgment to say the least. If you have abused company policies in the past, your boss might even consider firing you for pulling a "sickie."

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The takeaway: Put the phone and tablet down

"Using sick time inappropriately is one thing, but blatantly posting about your day at the beach is just careless," said Dana Case, director of operations for MyCorporation. "Sometimes, employees think of their bosses as separate from their personal lives, so they don't even think about them seeing those types of posts. But if it's on the internet, it's easily viewable."

Bottom line: Think twice when posting on social media. And consider whether your post is appropriate for all audiences who might have access.

Dressing inappropriately

A savvy employee dresses according to his workplace culture and environment. While ad agencies and tech companies tend to have more liberal dress code standards, law firms are generally more traditional. Your appearance and demeanor should reflect your company's culture, as well as the types of clients you serve.

Devin Clark, who now works for the medical lien finance company Medport Billing, had a negative experience while working at a credit card processing firm. Despite showing solid potential as an in-house representative, Clark was dismissed because a banking partner found his earrings to be unprofessional.

The takeaway: Dress to impress

Although the way a person dresses is a form of self-expression, at work you represent your company. Your appearance counts, and it pays to conform to the work environment from 9 to 5, as well as when you're applying for the job. If you don't know how to dress for work, check out these clothing items every working man needs.

Lying on your application

A CareerBuilder survey revealed that 75 percent of employers have found outright lies on a candidate's resume. Moreover, just 12 percent say they are likely to hire a candidate who does something odd or extreme in an interview.

In the long run, exaggerating or lying about your experience or qualifications just doesn't seem to pay.

This is what Malcolm Gladwell learned from being fired two months into a job
This is what Malcolm Gladwell learned from being fired two months into a job

The takeaway: Don't embellish

Tempting as it is to embellish your qualifications, it's best to list only those resume achievements that can be proven. A certified coach, human resources consultant and speaker, Lisa Barrington advises applicants to avoid even small lies.

"Tell the whole truth," said Barrington. "Remember, a lie of omission is still a lie."

Be honest from the start, and boost the odds of landing your dream job.


Another CareerBuilder survey found that employees have devised some innovative excuses for their tardiness. They ranged from following a spouse's lover after uncovering an affair to being delayed by a herd of deer.

Creativity aside, CareerBuilder revealed that more than 40 percent of employers have fired a worker for being late.

The takeaway: Practice punctuality

It's not surprising that tardiness in the workplace is cause for dismissal. Companies rely on their staff to ensure smooth operations.

"Being even a few minutes late can throw off customer service," said Barrington. "For example, in a retail establishment, doors can't open on time or, in a customer service role, phones aren't answered during posted times."

According to Pamela Barsky, who designs and manufactures fashion accessories, businesses can even face fines when their employees are late.

"One of our stores is in a communal space, where the landlord has rules about what time we are required to be open," said Barsky. "We are charged $50 if an employee is even one minute late. We pass the fine on to the employee the first time they show up late — the second, they no longer have a job."

An HR expert and creator of the management program, From The Inside Out Project®, Laura MacLeod has faced similar issues with hospitality employees.

"Working in a major hotel, I saw many instances of employees arriving late with no excuse," she said. "Counseling and discipline [were] progressive, but eventually they lost their jobs. This is totally avoidable."

Consider that your employer has a good reason for demanding punctuality, and set your alarm clock accordingly. If the unavoidable occurs, and you have to be late or absent, take a moment to call your boss. A thoughtful, honest explanation can go a long way toward preserving your job.

Poor personal hygiene

Most employees are hired on an "at will" basis. According to Nolo, this term indicates that an employer can fire you for any reason save discrimination based on race, religion or gender. It is perfectly legal for a company to fire you for having bad hygiene, however.

The takeaway: Good hygiene shows respect

"At any one time, I have about 20 to 30 employees," said Barsky. "One day, I came into the studio to find all of my sewing machine operators with toilet paper stuffed into their nostrils. The new silkscreen [worker] I had hired came into work smelling a little bit ripe. He was fired the same day."

Not only can practicing good hygiene help you keep your job, but it also demonstrates your respect for your fellow employees.

The biggest lesson the Flywheel CEO learned from getting fired
The biggest lesson the Flywheel CEO learned from getting fired

Gossiping and ignoring customers

Gossiping is a silly but easy way to get fired. And gossiping in front of customers can put you on the chopping block even more quickly.

"We use Square to run our credit cards, which gives customers the option to send us a comment about their experience," said Barsky. "Recently, I received one from a woman who'd been forced to wait while my salesperson finished gossiping with a friend … she's now not working for me."

The takeaway: Save the gossip for later — or never

For most firms, customer relations management is crucial. Even if business is slow, employees should strive to be attentive at all times and not get distracted by personal conversations and gossip.

Not only do employees who gossip wind up ignoring customers, but they also spread lies about their co-workers in many cases. Doing this creates an unpleasant work environment for everyone.

For best results, avoid passing on company gossip or sending emails with salacious information about your team. The last thing you want is a written record of your transgressions.


It might seem obvious, but swearing at work is unprofessional and inappropriate — and it could result in your firing.

Pierre R. Tremblay is the director of human resources for Dupray, a company that sells steam cleaners and steam irons in six countries. According to Tremblay, employees should avoid swearing at all costs.

The takeaway: Be careful not to offend others

"Swearing fosters a toxic work environment," said Tremblay. "We actually had to warn a few of our employees to stop swearing because it was offending others… if you can't speak without dropping an f-bomb, it's better to not speak at all."

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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.

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