Terminating an employee for poor performance…seems easy right?
On the surface, terminating an employee for poor performance seems simple. It’s nothing personal. The employee just isn’t getting it done and would be better off in another job. But even when a termination is 100% justifiable, managers must be extremely careful how they conduct themselves. Terminations, no matter how clear cut, can have legal ramifications.
Most businesses are protected to a certain extent by at-will laws, which allow the firing of employees for no reason. However, at-will employment does not keep an employee from filing a lawsuit for wrongful termination and, even if the courts rule in your favor, your business will be required to pay court costs. It’s best to take a few measures to protect yourself before firing an employee to avoid a costly legal process.
Here are 5 Tips to Termination:
- Document, document, document! Detailed, consistent documentation can defeat many claims of defamation, discrimination and wrongful discharge. Great documentation shows a pattern of clear expectations on your part, and repeated failures on the employee’s part.
- Make your Employee Handbook work for you and not against you. Make sure your employee handbook and policies are clear and concise. If you just downloaded one from the Internet, chances are it needs updating. Review the handbook annually and get a new acknowledgement from employees every year. Don’t have a handbook? Even small employers should consider having an employee handbook, it ensures your employees know their expectations, and understand workplace policies and procedures.
- Make sure your termination process is fair and standardized. It should be delivered consistently no matter who the employee, in fair, non-emotional way. Don’t embellish the reasons for termination, you don’t want a defamation case on your hands!
- Conduct a proper termination meeting. Unless the employee is volatile, do not terminate them via email, phone, or text. If possible conduct a proper termination meeting. Have witnesses, be brief and concise, and document!
- Involve HR! If an employee is in a protected class, has a known medical condition or disability, has taken job protected medical leave, or if there is suspicion of any other legal issue (e.g. harassment, retaliation), be sure to consult with HR or an employment attorney before terminating.
An employment application should not include any questions that will produce a response that would indicate an applicant’s protected class such as age, race, national origin, disability, etc. Such inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer’s intent to discriminate, unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose of the employer.
It’s important to note that Information needed to conduct background checks should be obtained on a separate form authorizing the employer to conduct the check.
Some common inquiries to avoid on your application are:
Birth dates: Making inquiries about an applicant’s birth date can give the perception that the employer is using age as a decision-making factor in the hiring process. If federal law or the employer’s state law requires a minimum age for employment for certain occupations, then the employer can ask applicants if they are at least the minimum age required for employment.
Graduation dates: Making inquiries of an applicant’s school graduation date can reveal an applicant’s age. To obtain information on whether an applicant holds a degree or a diploma, the employer can simply ask if the applicant has graduated and what degree was obtained.
Military discharge information: Questions that are relevant to work experience and training received are permissible. However, an employer should not ask an applicant the reason he or she was discharged from the military or request to see military discharge papers, except when directly related to the job or to determine veteran’s preference.
Race inquiries: An applicant’s race or color should not be asked on an employment application. Some employers may track their applicants’ race for affirmative action plans or compliance with the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, but this should be done apart from an application. This information is not used in the selection process and is voluntary for the applicant.
Citizenship: Inquiries about an individual’s citizenship or county of birth are prohibited and can be perceived as discrimination on the basis the individual’s national origin. An employer can inquire if an applicant is legally eligible to work in the United States and inform the applicant that proof of his or her eligibility to work in the United States must be provided if selected for hire.
Maiden name, Miss, Mrs. and Ms.: Many states prohibit marital status discrimination, making any questions related to that status possible evidence of discriminatory hiring practices.
Social Security number: Although asking applicants for their Social Security numbers is not unlawful, requesting this information from applicants is not recommended due to identity theft and privacy concerns. Employers do not need this information until it is time to run a background check or complete a W-4; therefore, including it on an application carries unnecessary risk.
Salary History: Some states prohibit an employer from requesting salary history information from candidates. These laws are designed to promote greater pay equality by forcing employers to develop salary offers based on job requirements and market pay levels.
Both state and federal labor law posters are required for businesses. If a business has one or more employees, it is required by the law to post federal, state and OSHA mandatory posters. More specifically, the following six postings must appear in each workplace location: federal minimum wage, Employee Polygraph Protection, OSHA, FMLA, USERRA, and EEO. You may purchase them individually or together on an all-in-one labor law poster.
Where should Posters Be Placed?
Labor law posters should be displayed somewhere apparent to all employees on a daily basis, such as a break room or main lobby. If you have multiple locations, then each workplace should display its own posters.
When Are Posters Not Needed?
Although it is recommended, the following types of businesses do not need to post labor law posters:
- Sole Proprietor without employees
- Businesses with only contract employees
- Businesses with an all-volunteer work force
- Family owned business where ALL employees are related
Do my posters need to be multilingual?
If you have a business that is located in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York or Texas you will have to post both Spanish and English versions of the posters. If your business is not in one of these states, then it is not mandatory for you to display the bilingual posters; however, it is a smart thing to do if you employee Spanish-speaking workers.
Do I have to change my posters every year?
The frequency of Labor Laws varies by state. Employers must change posters when the State, Federal or OSHA agencies make legislative or regulatory changes. The most expected update to occur is state minimum wage rates.
What is the penalty for failing to display Labor Law posters?
Federal and State fines are imposed by various agencies. These fines may vary.
- Federal FMLA $100 per offense.
- For failing to post the Federal OSHA Poster - A civil penalty of up to $7,000 may occur.
Unsure if you are compliant? Need help finding the forms, posters, or guidance? Contact your HR Advisor today!
During the holiday season, employers are often faced with employee time off requests, holiday pay, and planning holiday parties. Here are some tips for managing these issues during the holiday season.
Managing Time-Off Requests
The holidays are a popular time for employees to request time off. To help maintain adequate staffing, consider granting time off based on seniority, a first-come first-served basis, scheduling needs, or a combination of these factors. Or, consider establishing blackout periods when employees may not take vacation, or provide employees with incentives to take time off during less desirable times of the year. Whatever strategy you use, train supervisors and apply your policy consistently.
Under federal law, employers with 15 or more employees are generally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees' sincerely held religious beliefs and practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. This may include providing unpaid time off. The EEOC suggests best practices for providing religious accommodations, such as facilitating voluntary shift swaps and permitting flexible scheduling.
Private employers are generally not required to provide paid holidays to hourly non-exempt employees, unless the employer has promised otherwise (in another policy or handbook). If you close for a holiday but do not offer paid holidays, hourly employees are generally not entitled to pay. However, salaried employees must still receive their full salary, as long as they work any part of the workweek.
During the holiday season, some employers see an increase in the number of employees calling in sick, particularly before and after a company holiday.
To help reduce unnecessary absences, some employers require hourly non-exempt employees to work the day before and after a company holiday in order to receive holiday pay, unless they have scheduled the time off in advance. Employers may not apply such a policy to salaried exempt employees.
If you plan on hosting a holiday party, consider the following:
Insurance coverage: Check with your insurance provider to determine what your coverage and liabilities may be during the party. For example, if an employee is injured during a company-sponsored event, he or she may be covered under your workers' compensation plan. Such coverage may depend on a variety of factors, including when and where the injury occurred.
Pay: If you plan to host the party during work hours, employees will likely be entitled to pay for time spent at the party. Generally, attendance should be voluntary and employees should not be pressured to attend or disciplined for failing to attend.
Serving Alcohol: Prior to the party, consider consulting legal counsel regarding the potential liability for serving alcohol at company events. If you prohibit alcohol, remind supervisors and employees well in advance of the party. If alcoholic beverages will be served, limit intake and ensure there is plenty of food as well as non-alcoholic beverages available.
Reinforce code of conduct and expectations: Prior to the event, remind employees that they must act responsibly and that you will enforce workplace rules, such as dress codes and anti-harassment policies, regardless of whether the party is held during work hours or on company premises. Managers and supervisors who attend the party should monitor the event and enforce company rules on a consistent basis.
To help manage your workplace obligations during the holidays, plan ahead and have clear policies and procedures in place.