Quiet Firing: The Reality of Discreet Employee Dismissals 

Screenshot 20231024 141145 Facebook
Emilene LucasLegal Assessment Team Supervisor
Updated on 11th June 2024

The way we approach employment and management is changing quickly. Among the buzzwords like 'quiet quitting,' there's a less discussed but equally impactful phenomenon known as quiet firing.

This subtle, often invisible practice can erode the foundation of a healthy workplace and leave employees feeling undervalued and powerless. But what is quiet firing? And how can you recognise and address it?

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into quiet firing, offering insights and practical advice for employees and employers on how to identify quiet firing, the legal implications of quiet firing, and the steps you can take to address it.

What is quiet firing?

Quiet firing happens when employers, rather than outright terminating an employee, make their work environment so challenging or unfulfilling that the employee feels compelled to quit.

This might involve reducing responsibilities, providing minimal feedback or support, or creating a toxic atmosphere.

Unlike a direct dismissal, quiet firing can be difficult to identify and prove, making it a silent but potent force in the workplace.

How do you know if you're being quietly fired?

If you've ever felt sidelined, consistently overlooked for opportunities, or pressured into leaving without clear reasons, you might be experiencing quiet firing.

Recognising the signs of quiet firing can help you take proactive steps to protect your career and well-being. Here's how to identify if you're being quietly fired and what you can do about it.

1. Reduction in responsibilities

If you are regularly assigned menial or low-impact work or you are no longer considered for key projects, promotions, or development opportunities, this could be an attempt to push you out by stalling your career progression.

2. Lack of feedback

Feedback is important for growth and progression, but if you receive little to no feedback on your performance it is impossible to know where you stand or how to improve.

Lack of feedback in itself could be an indicator of a poorly managed workplace over subtle attempts to get you to leave, however, if you see a noticeable reduction in communication from your manager, including feedback that is vague, overly critical, or not actionable, this is a red flag which may relate to quiet firing.

3. Changes in work environment

Sudden changes to your work schedule, location, or role without clear justification can be a sign of quiet firing. These changes may disrupt your routine and make your position less tenable.

Another sign of this may include being left out of meetings, social activities, or team communications that were once part of your regular work experience.

Alternatively, you may notice your work environment has become tense or hostile towards you. This could include passive-aggressive behavior, exclusion, or overtly negative interactions with colleagues or supervisors.

4. Lack of support and resources

If your employer makes it hard for you to do your job by withdrawing access to tools, information, or team support, they may be trying to make you feel so at sea at work that you quit.

Alternatively, you may notice you are either given an unmanageable workload or not enough work to fill your time, both of which can leave you feeling frustrated and dissatisfied.

5. Lack of professional development

A key sign of quiet firing is employers neglecting your professional development. If you aren't offered opportunities for training, professional development, or advancement, this suggests a lack of investment in your future at the company. This a clear red flag if ever we see one as most companies want to have the best employees on board to achieve their goals.

6. Unrealistic expectations

Do you feel like your employer is setting you up for failure by giving you unrealistic targets or goals that are nearly impossible to achieve?

This could be a deliberate tactic to justify future performance reviews or disciplinary actions. Or, more likely, to make you worry about your performance and make the decision to jump before you're pushed.

Similarly, if your work is being subjected to unusually high levels of scrutiny, and minor errors are blown out of proportion, this could be an attempt to undermine your confidence. This is particularly true if you notice that you are held to higher standards than your colleague with little or no explanation.

If you suspect that you are being quietly fired, or even being bullied at work, documenting incidents and seeking advice from HR professionals or an employment law solicitor can help you address the situation effectively.

Is quiet firing illegal in the UK?

Quiet firing is not directly labeled as illegal in the UK. However, the tactics used in quiet firing can potentially breach various employment laws.

Let's break it down further.

Constructive dismissal

Constructive dismissal happens when an employee resigns due to their employer's conduct, which has made continued employment intolerable. Sounds familiar, right?

In the context of quiet firing, if an employee feels forced to resign because their work environment has become unbearable due to the employer's actions, they may claim constructive dismissal.

Examples of constructive dismissal related to quiet firing include:

  • A drastic reduction in responsibilities or demotion without justification.

  • Creating a hostile work environment or engaging in bullying behaviour.

  • Unreasonable changes to work conditions or expectations.

Breach of employment contract

Every employment contract includes implied terms, such as the duty to provide a safe and respectful working environment and to act with mutual trust and confidence. Quiet firing tactics that undermine these principles can be seen as a breach of these implied terms.

Employees can seek legal redress for breaches of contract, which might include seeking damages or requesting reinstatement to their former position.

Discrimination and harassment

Creating a hostile work environment or subjecting someone to unfair treatment as part of quiet firing could also be classified as harassment or victimisation under the Equality Act 2010.

Employees who face discrimination or harassment can file a claim with an employment tribunal for workplace discrimination and may be awarded compensation for harm suffered.

Unfair dismissal

Employers must show a fair reason for dismissal and demonstrate that they followed a fair process. Quiet firing often lacks transparency and procedural fairness, potentially leading to claims of unfair dismissal.

Therefore, if quiet firing results in resignation or termination, the employee may argue that they were effectively dismissed unfairly.

Successful claims for unfair dismissal can result in compensation for lost wages, reinstatement, or re-engagement in a similar role within the company.

So, while quiet firing is not explicitly illegal in the UK, the actions involved can breach various employment laws, leading to legal consequences for employers. Therefore, employers should aim to maintain fair, transparent, and supportive workplace practices to prevent issues related to quiet firing.

Is quiet firing ethical?

Quiet firing is (unsurprisingly) considered unethical because it lacks transparency, undermines employee dignity, and fails to uphold principles of fairness and justice.

Ethical management practices, on the other hand, promote open communication, fair treatment, and support for employee development.

While quiet firing may seem like a convenient way to get rid of an employee for whatever reason, employers need to understand that acting in this way often undermines the dignity and self-respect of employees and can have significant negative effects on their mental health.

What's the difference between quiet firing and legitimate termination methods?

Legitimate termination involves formally ending an employee's contract through clear, documented processes based on established performance criteria, behavioural issues, or operational needs.

Quiet firing, on the other hand, involves subtly pushing an employee to leave by creating an unfavourable work environment.

While legitimate terminations involve clear and open communication about performance or conduct issues, in quiet firing employees are often left in the dark about their standing or the reasons behind changes in their work environment. They are not given any opportunity to improve or address issues and decisions are made unilaterally, often without proper documentation.

How common is quiet firing?

Quiet firing appears to be increasingly common in modern workplaces. However, it's difficult to quantify precisely because of its subtle nature.

In 2023, LinkedIn News shared a post on quiet quitting and asked users if they had experienced quiet firing at work.

In this poll of over 19,000 people, 48% said they'd seen it at work before and 35% claimed to have faced it. Only 13% voted that quiet firing 'is not a thing'.

What's more, in recent years many employees have shared their experiences of quiet firing on professional networks and forums, indicating that the practice is recognised and discussed within the workplace community.

What factors have contributed to the rise of quiet firing in modern workplaces?

So, what has caused the rise in quiet firing?

One theory is that quiet firing can be seen as a way to cut expenses associated with formal layoffs like severance pay and redundancy pay.

As we have all seen, the rise of outsourcing and automation has led some companies to reduce their workforce. And quiet firing could be seen as a way to transition to new operational models without going through costly redundancy processes.

However, one may argue that this method, which involves making employees leave voluntarily, is quite convoluted and potentially unreliable as a cost-cutting or time-saving exercise!

A perhaps more insidious reason for quiet firing practices is an attempt to avoid legal liabilities.

Formal disciplinary and termination processes can be complex, time-consuming, and costly. Employers may see quiet firing as a simpler and less contentious way to address performance issues.

Similarly, employers may use quiet firing to avoid potential retaliation claims from employees who might allege that they were fired for raising complaints or whistleblowing.

How can employees protect themselves against the risks of quiet firing?

Quiet firing can be a subtle yet damaging practice, leaving employees feeling isolated and unsupported.

However, there are several proactive steps employees can take to protect themselves against the risks associated with this practice, including knowing their rights at work

Other ways to navigate and mitigate these risks include:

  • Staying attuned to workplace changes, such as reductions in your responsibilities, exclusion from meetings, or a noticeable lack of feedback and support.

  • Keeping a log of any incidents that make you feel marginalised or pushed out. Include dates, descriptions, and the context of each event.

  • Requesting regular one-on-one meetings with your manager to discuss your performance and seek feedback.

  • Asking for specific and actionable feedback on how you can improve and align better with the company’s goals.

If you believe you are being quietly fired and your situation is not improving, seek advice from an employment solicitor.

They can help you understand your rights and explore potential legal actions, such as claims for constructive dismissal.

What steps can employers take to prevent allegations of quiet firing?

Employers have a responsibility to maintain a fair and supportive work environment.

Preventing allegations of quiet firing requires a proactive approach to employee management and clear communication. 

1. Implement transparent performance management systems

Establish and communicate clear performance expectations and criteria. Employees should know what is expected of them and how their performance will be evaluated.

Conduct regular, structured performance reviews to provide employees with feedback on their work. These reviews should be documented and include both positive feedback and areas for improvement.

2. Provide constructive feedback and support

Offer constructive criticism aimed at helping employees improve their performance. Avoid using feedback as a tool to undermine the employee.

Create personal development plans for employees that include training, mentoring, and other resources to help them succeed in their roles.

3. Maintain open and honest communication

Hold regular one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss their progress, address concerns, and offer support. These meetings help build trust and ensure that employees feel heard.

Be transparent about organisational changes, performance expectations, and any issues that might affect employees.

4. Foster an inclusive and supportive workplace culture

Implement and enforce policies that promote inclusivity and prevent discrimination and harassment. Make sure that all employees are treated fairly and with respect.

Encourage employee engagement through team-building activities, open forums, and feedback surveys. An engaged workforce is less likely to feel marginalised.

Keep detailed records of all performance-related discussions, feedback sessions, and disciplinary actions.

Apply policies and procedures consistently across all employees to avoid any perception of unfair treatment.

Address performance issues promptly and directly rather than allowing them to linger. Ignoring problems can lead to frustration and allegations of unfair treatment.

Make sure you outline the consequences of continued poor performance but also provide a clear path for improvement. Employees should understand the steps they need to take to meet expectations.

7. Provide training for managers

Offer training for managers on effective performance management, communication skills, and conflict resolution. Well-trained managers are better equipped to handle performance issues fairly and constructively.

Train managers to recognise and avoid biases that could affect their treatment of employees. Bias awareness helps ensure that all employees are judged on their performance and not on personal factors.

8. Establish a grievance procedure

Implement a formal grievance procedure that allows employees to raise concerns about their treatment. Ensure that the process is accessible, confidential, and taken seriously.

How can Lawhive help?

For employees, being quietly fired can be devastating for their self-esteem and overall mental health. For employers, it is a toxic practice which can very easily lead to legal actions from employees who have been quietly fired or suspect they have.

If you are en employee and you suspect you may have a claim for constructive or unfair dismissal, our network of employment lawyers can help you understand your legal position, and advise you of the best next steps.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation from our Legal Assessment Team and get a no-obligation free quote for the services of a specialist employment lawyer.

Share on:

Get legal help the hassle-free way

We have expert solicitors ready to resolve any type of legal issue in the UK.

Remove the uncertainty and hassle by letting our solicitors do the heavy lifting for you.

Get Legal Help

Takes less than 5 mins

We pride ourselves on helping consumers and small businesses get greater access to their legal rights.

Lawhive is your gateway to affordable, fast legal help in the UK. Lawhive uses licensed solicitors you can connect with online for up to 50% of the cost of a high-street law firm.

Lawhive Ltd is not a law firm and does not provide any legal advice. Our network includes our affiliate company, Lawhive Legal Ltd. Lawhive Legal Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority with ID number 8003766 and is a company registered in England & Wales, Company No. 14651095.

For information on how to make a complaint about an experience you have had with our SRA regulated affiliate company Lawhive Legal Ltd click here.

Lawhive Legal Ltd is a separate company from Lawhive Ltd. Please read our Terms for more information.

© 2024 Lawhive
86-90 Paul Street, London EC2A 4NE

Version: 3e064f3