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.
- 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.