Companies have a lot of freedom in regards to who they can hire and fire. However, this may not stop angry ex-employees from claiming that it was wrongful termination. Even if a business is innocent of such claims, it can still help itself by taking steps that protect itself from these unfounded claims.
At-will employment enables businesses to terminate employment for any reason or none at all as long as it does not violate the employment contract and applicable employment laws. The plaintiff would have valid grounds if the termination violated involved one of the following:
- Discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion and other inalienable rights
- Going to the authorities regarding the employer’s illegal or fraudulent actions (AKA whistleblowing)
- Refusing to work in unsafe conditions relative to the job description
- Other violations of OSHA or Title VII
Documentation is essential
There are two sides to every story, so the employer needs to ensure that they have documentation that supports their version of the story. They can then refer to documentation regarding the employee’s performance and behavior. Examples include:
- An employee handbook that outlines expectations
- A series of poor performance reviews and warnings based on expectations
- Documentation, emails, voicemail, and eyewitness reports of clashes with coworkers and management
- Customer complaints about the employee
- Instances of employee misconduct
It pays to be prepared
Companies may want to check with an employment law attorney before termination to identify potential issues. If they do have documentation like that outlined here, it can quickly dispel any question about the legality of a contentious or unpopular decision. Having such detailed records can provide peace of mind to owners, managers and the human resources team.