Can an Employee be Fired for Being Too Nice?

Recently, there was a headline in New York that caught a lot of attention. This time, it involved a New York McDonald’s accused of firing an employee for buying firefighters some food, essentially being too nice.

Heather Levia, a 23-year-old single mom with twins, currently works two jobs and is putting herself through nursing school. During one of her morning shifts as a manager at McDonald’s, Ms. Levia decided to give back to some local firefighters who were just out in sub-zero temperatures putting out a house fire. The firefighters came into the McDonald’s where Ms. Levia worked and ordered food. Ms. Levia took it upon herself to pay the bill for the firefighters. Why? She said, “Just because I appreciate everything they do.”

Later in her shift, another fire department came into the McDonald’s where Ms. Levia worked and ordered food. Ms. Levia sent her boss a text message to see if McDonald’s would pay the tab for this set of firefighters. Ms. Levia thought they might because she claims they regularly give free meals to police officers who stop by. Ms. Levia’s boss said no. Ms. Levia then called the corporate office and got the same answer.

Ms. Levia and her fellow co-workers took it upon themselves to pull together and pick up the tab for these firefighters as well. When word spread that Ms. Levia paid the bill, some firefighters called her boss and complained, thinking the restaurant made Ms. Levia feel obligated to pay for their meals. Ms. Levia claims she didn’t feel obligated but was just doing it to be kind.

At Ms. Levia’s next shift, she was unexpectedly fired. Ms. Levia had worked at McDonald’s for eight (8) years and was up and fired. Ms. Levia claims the reason given was she swore at a superior – something she denies.

Allegany firefighters say they never expect free food and were grateful for the gesture. “It was a shock. We certainly regret the fact she lost her job. We can’t speak on corporate policy because we don’t know the background of it,” said Allegany Fire Media Officer Gordon Scott. “It was a sad affair because a gentleman lost a home. And it’s even worse because we know now that this gal apparently lost her job because of it,” said Mr. Scott.

Tom Meyers, the owner of the Olean McDonald’s, gave the following statement:

“The Meyers Organization has always valued the employees who serve our customers every day. We likewise continue to be an ardent supporter of our police and fire departments, along with other first responders. They are always welcome in our restaurants, and we will continue to support them in the future.

“We are aware that certain allegations have been made concerning the reasons for Heather Levia’s termination. Out of respect for Ms. Levia and her privacy, it would not be appropriate to comment in detail on the reasons she is no longer employed by our organization. Still, it should be pointed out that the allegations are absolutely not true. We would never penalize an employee for showing appropriate gratitude for the work of our firefighters.”

Ms. Levia has currently not filed any charges against McDonald’s for her termination.

Can an Employee be Fired for Being Too Nice?

Nice guys finish last, but do nice employees finish last too? As seen above and in other situations, nice employees seem to often receive the termination letter. No accolades for the nice employees.

1. Employer’s Goals

Every employer has specific goals in mind for their employers. This means that those employees have certain expectations for their working time and work tasks. When an employee is “nice” but does tasks outside of their job description, they are not using their time as their employer intended.

2. At-Will Employment

We talk about at-will employment all the time. Employers and employees in Pennsylvania can end the employment relationship at any time. The only times it’s illegal for an employer to fire an employee is if there was a contract involved or discrimination. Being fired for being “nice” is not illegal. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not illegal.

Basically, termination due to being nice is not illegal, and an employee has few protections for being fired for those niceties. However, if you believe that you were fired because of your legally protected class, then you should look into your legal options. An attorney can help you know what your rights under the law are.

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