Can I get Fired for Asking?
Washington is an “at will” employment state which means your employer can terminate you at any time with or without notice for any reason except if the termination violates a contract you have with your employer (doesn’t happen often) or if the termination violates some federal or state law.
Generally speaking, if you complain to your boss or manager about some subject matter that is not covered or prohibited by a state or federal law (like asking for a raise for yourself, asking for better benefits for yourself or asking the employer to change some work rule for you), there is nothing illegal about the employer firing you just for asking. Here’s a tip on how to make that request and any other request to your employer protected so the employer cannot fire you.
The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives the right to employees, even if they are not represented by a union, to engage in “protected concerted activity for their mutual aid and protection.” “Protected concerted activity” means two or more employees acting together to get the employer to do something (that is lawful) for themselves and/or their fellow workers. NLRA law also provides that, in most circumstances, if just one employee asks or complains to the employer about something for himself or herself AND FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHER WORKERS TOO, then the employee is engaging in protected concerted activity since he/she is making the request or complaint for more than just himself or herself.
So the next time you have to complain or ask your boss about something related to your working conditions or any aspect about your employment terms, try to have another employee (other than management) go with you. If you can’t find someone to go with you, at least tell the employer you are making the request or complaint on behalf of yourself AND FOR THE BENEFIT OF YOUR COWORKERS TOO. If you do this then – BINGO! – you just turned a potentially vulnerable employment risk into protected concerted activity and with it all the protections of the NLRA which prohibits your employer from terminating you or taking any other adverse employment action against you.