Smart bosses know that they should regularly schedule employee evaluations, interact routinely with each worker they supervise and allow all employees to openly discuss job concerns at weekly staff meetings. By honoring these practices, employers can greatly diminish the chances of one day having to respond to numerous wrongful termination lawsuits. Since every worker wants to believe his or her views matter to management, supervisors should make every effort to regularly visit with all of their employees, even if they usually work out “in the field” or at home most of the time.
Job dissatisfaction can be greatly alleviated if current problems are readily addressed and not allowed to remain unchecked for many months or even years.
Avoid Firing Employees for Questionable Reasons
If all hardworking employees could be treated fairly, many firings could be avoided. Unfortunately, supervisors often stay so busy trying to complete their own job tasks that they fail to notice when specific individuals or groups of employees are being treated improperly (or discriminated against) in the workplace. Because of this common oversight, employers must thoroughly check out all complaints about specific employees before ever firing anyone who appears to be performing poorly. If nothing else, no one should ever fire an employee just because of:
- Their ethnicity or country of origin
- Their unwillingness to take a lie detector test, unless the job falls under one of the legal exceptions that allow employers to require such tests
- The person’s disability, especially when accommodations can easily be made
- A work safety complaint they recently filed with the proper federal agency
- Their stated intention to file a sexual harassment (or other type of discrimination) lawsuit
While the above list is not exhaustive, it does provide a general overview of the types of reasons no one should ever use for firing an employee.
Carefully Handle the Very Act of Firing an Employee
To increase your chances of successfully combating all future lawsuits for wrongful termination, be sure you heed the following warnings
- Never subject an employee who’s about to be fired to any type of social ridicule; speak only with the company officials you must update regarding your actions. If the case should ever go to trial, you want the court to believe you acted in a responsible manner
- Be sure you abide by the state and federal laws governing your work relationship with the employee regarding his or her last paycheck and other benefits that must be tendered in a timely fashion
- Hold all meetings concerning an employee’s firing and departure away from public view; respectfully present the employee with the truthful facts you believe fully justify the upcoming dismissal
- Always consult with your company attorney to be sure you’re on firm ground before actually firing the employee (unless the reason is one you’ve correctly depended upon frequently in the past)
- If one of your company employees asks you if a specific person was just fired, just tell them that the individual is no longer with the company
- If you want to try and lessen the chances that you’ll be sued later for wrongful termination, you can offer the departing employee a severance package in exchange for a written statement that he or she will not sue you. Be sure the language in the agreement is carefully drafted by your own company lawyer or a fully competent employment law attorney. To be enforceable, the statement’s language must fully comply with all pertinent state and federal laws
- If you are a government agency (or working under a federal or state government contract), you should ask your attorney to review the poorly performing employee’s entire personnel file to be sure you’re correctly handling the firing in in keeping with all the terms set forth in the governing work contract
- When you’re firing an employee under any type of employment contract, make sure you have met every condition or requirement set forth in the contract before actually terminating the person (this is another time when you should probably obtain legal advice before acting)
Getting Legal Help
As an employer or human resources professional, you should obtain all of the necessary, up-to-date training you need to be sure you’re properly interacting with employees on all important topics. You should meet at least once a year with your company’s employment law attorney to be sure you’re handling your duties correctly. If your business doesn’t already have a lawyer on staff or on retainer, seriously consider hiring an employment lawyer right away. It’s important to have this type of relationship already established before a complicated hiring or firing issue presents itself. Also, don’t forget to ask this attorney to help you draft a comprehensive employee handbook if you don’t already have one.
Remember, being able to just pick up the phone and obtain quality legal advice when you need it most is invaluable.