Employers have the right to make their own personnel decisions. However, it seems that every business will have to deal with former employees who claim that they were wrongfully terminated. Even in “at-will” states, employers are prohibited from terminating an employee for legally impermissible reasons.
Wrongful termination lawsuits can come as a big surprise to a business, or it may be clear from an employee’s exit that there could be trouble. Regardless of how the employee left and the reasons for the employee’s termination, employers can take several steps to protect the company against such claims.
Valid examples of wrongful termination
Businesses can generally terminate an employee for any reason, or no reason at all, unless it violates their employment agreement or the civil laws that protect individuals here in the United States. Examples of wrongful terminations include:
- Violation of their employment contract
- Discrimination based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religious beliefs, or other Constitutionally protected rights
- Retaliation for making a discrimination claim, even if the underlying claim was not valid
- Violation of other employment law protections
Best practices can avoid disputes
Here are five actionable items that businesses can use to protect themselves:
- Use vetted best practices: The key component of most wrongful discharge claims is a claim that the employee was treated differently from his or her peers; managers should be sensitive to applying all standards fairly across the workplace.
- Have clear objectives: Every job should have performance metrics and managers should make employees aware of these metrics. Managers can then review performance to determine if the employee meets the stated goals. Termination for poor performance should never be a surprise to the employee.
- Employee handbooks: These should outline all policies and procedures so employees understand guidelines and expectations.
- Train management and human resources staff: Managers and human resources staff should work together to establish expectations for employees and to advise employees at an early stage when these expectations are not being met.
- Keep records: This can include performance reviews, emails, voicemail messages, eyewitness accounts of behavior, customer complaints, or other evidence.
Disputes can happen
Employees and employers will often disagree on events surrounding the termination, so employers need to have documentation to support their decisions. Accurate records can provide clear evidence that the company violated no laws or agreements in terminating the employee.
Law firms that handle business formation, disputes and employment law issues can help the business protect itself from wrongful termination lawsuits by setting up protocols. They can also help define the difference between an unpopular decision and an illegal one. This counsel can provide peace of mind when owners and management make personnel decisions.