Undoubtedly, one of the most stressful duties of a business owner or manager is firing employees. A termination may be the sorry result of an economic downturn or the culmination of an employee’s lack of success. You may know well the embarrassment of losing a job and the difficult time your employee will have facing his or her family. Nevertheless, you must put your emotions aside and do your job.
In the back of your mind, however, may be the concern that this termination will come back to haunt you in the form of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Such lawsuits can drain your business of time and resources, and they may also damage your reputation as a fair and trustworthy employer. It is important that you act justly in all your dealings with employees, but especially during the difficult process of termination.
Know the law
Friends and family of a fired employee may urge the employee to pursue legal action for wrongful termination because they often do not know the whole story. They may not realize you have been coaching and disciplining the employee for months, and the termination may seem unfair to them. Nevertheless, California, like most states, has at-will employment, which means you do not need a reason to fire an employee. You may be within your legal rights as long as the termination does not involve any of the following factors:
- Any form of discrimination, such as firing someone because of race, gender, age or other protected status
- Retaliation, such as terminating an employee who files a grievance, applies for Family and Medical Leave or seeks workers’ compensation benefits after an accident
- Violation of an implied contract in which the employee understands that he or she is protected from termination
- Breach of a written employment contract which spells out the terms of potential termination for the employee
Diligent record keeping for each incident of discipline or corrective action you take with an employee can go a long way in defending your reasons for letting someone go. You may also wish to offer a severance in exchange for a terminated employee’s signature on an agreement not to take legal action for wrongful discharge.
Even your most careful preparation for letting an employee go may end up with threats of a wrongful termination lawsuit. If this occurs, your best course of action is to understand your legal options. By contacting a skilled attorney, you can learn of the most appropriate steps to take to deal with an employee’s claims.