Disclaimer: This article should not be regarded as a form of legal advice. It’s suggested that readers ask for legal counsel and contact a lawyer immediately if they have concerns regarding wrongful termination suits.
When you were first hired, you may not have realized that one of the hardest tasks you’ll ever face is terminating a co-worker. It’s hard to tell someone that you no longer see them as invaluable.
Ending someone’s career is the last thing anyone wants to do. It’s preferable to hire someone and retain them for years. However, there are instances when the employer-employee relationship no longer works.
While you may not want to hurt your employee’s feelings, it’s more important that you protect yourself and your company. And this is why you should learn effective procedures to avoid wrongful termination suits.
Understanding Employment Law
- Know the basics of “at will” employment.
In America, the default employment relationship is “at-will” employment. You can fire an employee anytime, without a definite reason. “At-will” employment can be limited by:
- Employment contracts
- Certain public policies
- Anti-discrimination law
- Research examples of employment contracts.
You can study sample contracts and examine what kind of terms you can offer your employees. It’s also wise to study how other employers in your field define their employment contracts.
You can also check websites online for samples of employment contracts; sites such as LawDepot.com.
- Study the federal anti-discrimination law.
The anti-discrimination law prohibits you, as an employer, to discriminate against your employees because of their race, color, gender, religion, nationality, age, or disability.
You’re not allowed to fire a worker for things that do not have an effect on the work. For example, you can’t fire an employee for being gay. You can’t discharge someone for their age unless he/she can no longer perform his/her duties. Lastly, you’re also not allowed to fire an employee just because she becomes pregnant.
- Study the state employment law.
Each state has an employment law. Always be familiar with your state’s particular law. One action may be allowed in one state while it is illegal in another state. You can check the different state employment laws on the U.S. Department of Labor website.
- Recognize other laws that concern to your company.
It’s illegal to ask your employee to break the law. If you terminate an employee for disobedience because he/she refused to break the law in order to perform his/her duties, you may face a wrongful termination suit. For example, if your business is operating in the logistics industry, an employee who is involved in car accidents during working hours could be one of the grounds for their termination.
Initiating Formal Employment Procedures
- Customize employee contracts.
You should carefully create and review every contract you offer your employees. Don’t reuse deals that you’ve used with older employees, and avoid using a form or template contract.
If you’re unsure how to write a contract, ask your company’s lawyer for help. He/she can recommend what should be written down in the contract.
- Evaluate your company’s manual and handbook.
You should review the manuals and handbooks that you give out to your employees so you can check whether you’re able to keep the promises written there. For example, you’ve written in your company handbook that an employee has eight days off a month, while in your contract you only granted four. If you terminate someone for working less than you think that they should, this can be considered a breach of the contract.
- Train your supervisors.
You can reduce the risk of lawsuits by training your supervisors about the essentials of harassment, retaliation, safety, privacy, and discrimination. If your supervisor harasses your employees, you’ll be liable, as well as your company.
- Initiate termination protocols.
Create a systemized protocol for terminating employees and use it throughout your company. Make sure you publish these protocols in your manuals and handbooks, and that your employees and supervisors are well informed.
- Investigate interior complaints as soon as possible.
If you’ve been informed of the misconduct of one of your employees, make sure to investigate this immediately. You should also consult your lawyer to ensure that you’ll handle it correctly and to show that you’re taking the complaint seriously.
Terminating Employment Legally
- Conduct an independent review.
You should never immediately fire someone, as you may not be able to think clearly if you’re in the midst of a situation.
When firing an employee, take care that you are not doing the following:
- Violating law
- Breaching the contract
- Forgetting to give the employee documented and sufficient warnings
- Deviating from your company’s practices
- Departing from procedures for similar situations
- Forgetting to gather all the necessary documents
- Consult your company’s attorney.
Your lawyer can help you plan out how to fire your employee correctly and legally. He/she will guide you through the necessary steps you should take without violating the law. For one, an experienced attorney can give you useful information on workers’ compensation.
- Extend help to your employee.
You can decrease the risk of having a disgruntled employee by showing kindness and understanding. You can offer to him or her:
- A chance to resign
- A favorable reference
- Assistance with his/her job hunt
It’s never easy to ax an employee. The decision to fire will have a significant effect on your employee’s career and personal life. However, if you’re entirely composed, you can do it appropriately.
Properly carrying out the termination of an employee reduces the blow to the employee and protects your company from possible lawsuits. And if you find yourself in any situation where you’re facing a wrongful termination lawsuit, make sure to contact a lawyer immediately.
Adeline Robinson is one of most promising young law writers. She writes pieces on law topics for common readers. She is an avid sports fan and loves watching games if she has free time.