Is Committing a Crime Grounds for Termination of Employment?


Typically, committing a crime can constitute grounds for termination of employment. In the case of an “at-will” employee, the employer has a lot of latitude in hiring and firing decisions, but even “for cause” employees are still likely to be fired for engaging in criminal activity. In many cases, state legislation, union contracts or internal policy mean that the employer must first prove that the criminal conduct reflects upon or has a direct impact on the job.

Criminal Acts and Employment: An Overview

Employers should be able to demonstrate a clear nexus to the job — in other words, how the crime is related to job performance — if the criminal act was conducted while the employee was off duty. Obvious examples are crimes against children by a teacher or other worker with access to children or off-duty theft by a cashier. Committing a crime that would embarrass the organization, or compromise the individual's ability to perform his job — for example, a teacher who could no longer be regarded as a role model — would also be grounds for removal. If an employee commits a crime that would have been disqualifying in the background investigation, it is likely to lead to termination as an employee. Even if the act itself is not disqualifying, the impact of the conviction may still provide grounds for dismissal.

Conviction Resulting in Imprisonment

If an employee is convicted of a crime and that conviction results in imprisonment — meaning the employee cannot report to work — then the employee could be discharged. In this instance, the discharge is not necessarily for the crime itself — although that may still form part of the basis for dismissal — but for job abandonment and failure to report to work.

Conviction Resulting in Removal of Driving Privileges

A criminal conviction that results in the removal of driving privileges — such as a suspended license for a period of time — may be cause for dismissal if driving is a condition of employment. Even if other employees at the company would not necessarily be dismissed due to a charge of driving under the influence, an employee whose job involves extensive driving is likely to lose employment because of the issue.

Committing a Work-Related Crime

An employee who commits a crime that might not otherwise be disqualifying on the background check — such as petty theft, for example — could still be terminated for the conduct when the behavior directly has an impact on the employer. If the employee is caught stealing company property — as opposed to an off-duty incident of shoplifting — the ability of the company to place trust and confidence in the employee has been destroyed. Any criminal activity perpetrated against the employer clearly establishes a nexus to the job and would be grounds for termination.

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