Ending a Job

Authored By: Carl Vinson Institute
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Ending a Job

This document tells you the following:

  • What happens if you are fired or laid off from your job or if you quit?
  • What happens if you become ill or are injured and cannot work?
  • What is sick leave and how is it covered?
  • What happens when you retire?
  • What is a pension?
  • What is Social Security?

What Happens If You're Fired or Laid Off or If You Quit


Unless stated in the contract or by law, either side may end an employment relationship whenever either wishes. The employer is free to fire an employee. The employee is free to quit. Also, it is considered proper to give employers enough notice so that they can hire someone else. This notification may even be required by the contract.

Employers are free to end employment relationships at any time.

In some jobs, especially government jobs, employees have a right to a hearing if they are fired, demoted, or punished. With a private company, there is no automatic right to a hearing. Such a right might be provided by the company or a union contract.

Employers can lay off employees when there is no more work available. Layoffs are usually temporary. In order to stay in business, employers have the right to lay off as many employees as may be necessary. However, a 1988 law, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, generally requires employers to give 60 days' notice of layoffs and plant closings affecting more than 50 employees during a 30day period.

If laid off-and in most states, if fired without a good reason-an employee can apply for unemployment compensation. In Georgia, the state Department of Labor runs the unemployment compensation program. The purpose of the program is to help offset a person's lack of a paycheck while looking for another job. However, this support usually lasts only 6 to 12 months.

If You're Sick or Injured

When an employee becomes injured or sick or is killed at work, workers' compensation ("comp") programs go into effect. Although state governments run these programs, they are funded by individual employers. In Georgia, workers' comp is operated by the State Board of Workers' Compensation.

If the board awards compensation, his employer must make payments to him, usually a small amount of money over a period of years. Employers may buy insurance to cover these costs.

The amount paid is based on a schedule (or list) of benefits in the state law.

Compensation might not be given if the illness or injury is not listed on the state schedule of benefits.

Federal law does not provide for sick leave as such. However, the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides for leaves of absence in four situations:

1. upon the birth of a child (for both male and female employees);
2. upon the adoption of a child;
3. in order to care for a spouse, child, or parent suffering from a serious health condition; and
4. when the employee has a serious health condition that makes him or her unable to perform the job.

The FMLA requires employers of 50 or more people to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12month period to employees who require or request a leave of absence in one of these situations. When the employee returns, the company in most instances must return the employee to the same (or equivalent) job without a reduction in pay or benefits.

Either the employer or the employee can substitute any collected paid vacation or personal days for any part of the 12 weeks of FMLA leave. In the case of leave for serious health conditions, the employer may substitute any collected sick leave and vacation or personal days for part of the 12 week leave.

When You Retire

If you have not yet started fulltime work, retirement seems very, very far away. However, if you have worked, some of your money may have gone into the federal government's Social Security program. The Social Security program provides income to retired persons.

Like other job-related laws, those concerned with retirement reflect changes in society. Traditionally, in many places (including the United States), children or relatives cared for the elderly. However, family patterns change. Today, most employees expect to support themselves on pensions from their former employers and/or Social Security.

What Is a Pension?

A pension is a plan for paying a person after retirement. The funds for pension plans may be contributed by both employer and employee, or funds may come from the employer only. Employers are not required to provide pensions, however.

The amount of the pension is usually based on the worker's income and length of service with the employer. Generally, the higher-paid employee with the greater length of service will receive the larger pension.

Problems in private pension programs led to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) of 1974. One problem was that employees had to work for a company for as many as 20 years before having rights to pension benefits. However, many Americans change jobs frequently. ERISA required that rights to a pension be guaranteed (or vested) after shorter periods of time, generally five years.

Another problem was that employers would fire workers to avoid paying a pension. If an employee can prove this practice, then under ERISA, the court could order the company to pay. The person might also be able to sue the company for age discrimination.

Social Security

Social Security is similar to a pension plan. Contributions to Social Security are deducted from workers' paychecks. All who contribute to the system during their working years are eligible for Social Security.

Social Security is different from welfare. Most of those who receive Social Security have contributed to the program while employed. Contributors receive benefits regardless of their level of income. A citizen receiving welfare, on the other hand, must be at or below poverty level.

The Social Security Act was passed in 1935 during the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Many Americans had lost their jobs and had no pensions or savings to support themselves. The purpose of the law was to have some income available for older persons when they retire. Today, for many people, Social Security provides most or all of their retirement income. The program has been expanded by Congress through the years to include assistance to widows and children, disability for injured workers, and other benefits.

The Social Security program is controversial. One reason is its cost. In 1983, in an effort to prevent the program from running out of money, Congress raised the age level for receiving retirement benefits from 65 to 67. However, these laws did not resolve the problem or the controversy. Currently, some workers wonder if they will receive social security benefits at all when they retire. You will hear more about this issue in the future.

* Excerpted from An Introduction to Law in Georgia, Fourth Edition, published by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, 1998 (updated 2004). The Vinson Institute is not responsible for errors in the online text. Content is for information only; in no way should the information in the book be considered legal advice to anyone on any matter for which there are legal implications. Any such matter should be specifically addressed with an attorney. The book is available for purchase ator by contacting the Publications Program, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia, 201 M. Milledge Avenue, Athens, GA 30602; telephone 706-542-6377; fax 706-542-6239.

Last Review and Update: Jul 30, 2004