Can You Get Fired for Requesting a Transfer?

Can You Get Fired for Requesting a Transfer?

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A lateral transfer, or a transfer of jobs within the same company, may seem like a good idea at first. But the reality is that it can create quite a sensitive situation. Many contemplating making such a request ultimately decide against doing so to protect their employment status.

You can get fired simply for requesting a transfer. While there are no legal grounds for this, it is something that happens with enough frequency to make employees think twice before putting in a request.

In this article, I will go deeper into transfer requests and terminations and show you how to request a transfer while mitigating the risk of getting fired. So be sure to keep reading. 

Under Which Circumstances Can a Work Transfer Be Denied?

Human Resources may have some input in the matter, but your boss is ultimately the person who stands between you and the new position you are eyeing. 

A work transfer can be denied if you lack experience or specialized knowledge or if you’re needed in your current position. Work transfers are also dependent on whether a position is available, so if there is no vacancy, work transfers can be denied. 

For legitimate reasons — or even none at all — your boss can deny the request you put in for a work transfer. Here is a little more information about the circumstances under which this can happen:

  • You lack experience. A lack of experience is one of the most common reasons a transfer request is turned down. The job you are applying to transfer to may have different requirements for its employees. So while you are perfectly qualified — maybe even overqualified — for your current position, you may not have enough experience in certain aspects that are requisite for the job you hope to transfer to.
  • You lack specialized knowledge. Certain levels of educational attainment or training are necessary for some job positions. These specialized knowledge jobs typically come with better opportunities. That’s probably why you are interested in a transfer in the first place. However, your excellent work ethic and remarkable learning speed will count for nothing if you do not have the diploma, certificates, or licenses looked for.
  • There is no vacancy. Announcements usually follow a job opening. But that doesn’t necessarily mean one must wait before applying. That said, the chances of your request being denied are much higher. But if your resume is impressive enough, they will be sure to remember you the next time they do have an opening, or if you are incredibly fortunate, they might make one just for you.
  • You are needed at your current job. Your boss may be unwilling to sign off on the transfer if you are urgently needed at your current position. A key employee leaving would be too much trouble, especially at a crucial time for the department. Under these circumstances, there are no laws compelling your boss to let you go should you request it. You will have to buckle down and wait for another opportunity. 

While these are all legitimate reasons for denying a transfer request, there have been countless complaints about transfers being denied for no apparent reason. Many employees have noted that their bosses even became hostile toward them after they turned in their requests.

This behavior is both irrational and unethical. But unfortunately, labor laws do not have a say on the matter. Unless there is discrimination or harassment involved, employers can pretty much act on their whims. 

Moreover, they can go as far as to terminate employment for any reason at all, barring three situations. These situations are unlawful, so employers will be breaking the law by firing their employees within these circumstances. These are 

  • Discrimination. It is unlawful for employers to terminate employees for factors like race or religion, as such termination is seen as discriminatory. 
  • Performing civic duty. Employers cannot fire anyone for taking days off to vote, serve in the military, or perform jury duty. 
  • Contract violation. Some employees may have contracts stipulating that they cannot be fired without stipulated causes. Such contracts protect employees from being fired if they want to transfer out to another department. 
  • Good faith violation. Employers who fire their employees to avoid paying salary, commissions, or other services are in violation of the law.

This autonomy stems from the “at-will” employment model in U.S. labor law that most states and the District of Columbia follow. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at-will employment “means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability.”

This legal liability is not much of a threat to employers who are largely favored by labor laws. They can manufacture a seemingly legitimate legal reason for an employee’s termination, and should any legal proceedings follow, the burden of proof would rest on the employee.

It’s no wonder then that the prospect of requesting a transfer stirs up so much uneasiness among employees. They are hesitant to put in a request for fear of upsetting their bosses and putting their jobs on the line.

While this is by no means right, it is a real possibility that awaits anyone who might be so bold as to attempt a work transfer.    

How To Request a Transfer While Mitigating the Risk of Getting Fired

We’ve established that termination is a real consequence of requesting a work transfer. But that doesn’t mean you should chuck your request draft in the bin and stay at your current position where you are unhappy and discontent. 

It only means that you should take the time to plan your steps carefully. Here are some helpful tips you can follow:

  • Float the idea in advance. Sudden changes are unwelcome in any company and for any boss. If you are interested in a work transfer, it would be wise to throw it out there sometime before you plan to make an actual request. This way, your boss gets an unofficial heads-up, and you can gauge what they think of your goals and intentions and act accordingly.
  • Put together a transition plan. If your boss seems receptive to your aspirations, it’s time to prepare for the next step and put together a transition plan you can present to them. This will soften the blow of your news. If you give them ample time and offer to assist in finding and training a replacement, they will be more likely to approve your transfer and wish you well.
  • Build a strong case. No doubt you have good reasons for wanting a transfer. Outline these and build a strong case for why you deserve to have this transfer push through. Do it, not for the department manager you are looking to join, but for your current boss. This way, you will be making them an ally in your professional growth, and it will encourage them to be supportive of your objective.
  • Have a meeting with your boss. When you have come up with a sound transition plan and ironed out the details of your request, schedule a face-to-face appointment with your boss. They will appreciate you speaking to them in person about your plans as opposed to randomly receiving an email requesting a transfer. It will also give you the opportunity to better communicate your transition plan vis-à-vis.
  • Submit an official transfer request. If your meeting with your boss was a success, turning in an official transfer request will be a mere formality. But this shouldn’t be taken lightly. Put the same effort into crafting a request letter as you would have if you did not have the assurance of your boss’s blessing. This will reinforce your message in your meeting and silence any second thoughts they might be having.

The circumstances surrounding a transfer request and the variables involved are largely case-by-case. This should be considered carefully as you plan how you will make your request and tailor the tips above to your specific situation.

Should You Request a Work Transfer?

When it comes to workplace transfers, the stakes are high. You could end up getting that new position you want and continue the upward trajectory in your professional growth, or you could end up unemployed.

But while the shadow of termination and other undesirable consequences looms over you, you should commit to setting your transfer in motion. Internal candidates have advantages over external candidates, which means that you have a good chance of getting the position. 

So long as you do your homework and follow the suggestions in this article,

Final Thoughts

Requesting a lateral transfer is often more complex than it should be, and employees always get the short end of the stick. Because there are no explicit laws regarding transfers, they can end with unwanted consequences — even termination. 

Understanding the variable state of affairs surrounding work transfers will help you navigate your way towards a successful transfer, or at the very least, to have your transfer denied while getting to keep your current job.