Firing employees is rarely a pleasant experience, but every business owner must deal with it. You can’t expect all employees to work out, and when they don’t, it’s best for both your business and the employee that you handle the problem quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, however, there are certain instances in which firing an employee could lead to litigation. If this is the case, you must still fire the employee, but exercise caution while doing it.
Firing Employees: An Employee Who Has Made Prior Complaints
It is illegal in the U.S. to fire an employee because he or she has complained about your business, its safety or the legality of your procedures — it’s considered wrongful retaliation. if an employee has made similar claims in the past, you should exercise caution when firing him or her. Make sure that you have adequate documentation of substandard work or other problems before firing him or her.
Firing Employees: An Employee Who is Forty or Older
Another problem that you might encounter is the firing of employees who are forty or older. Age discrimination is a serious allegation, and might arise if the employee claims that you are trying to hire younger employees to whom you can pay lower wages. Again, you must have strong evidence to prove that you are firing the employee because of substandard work or other problems.
Firing Employees: An Employee Who is a Minority
Since just about every employee could be a minority because of one fact or another, you’ll have to be extra careful about this. Again, clear documentation is important, and the more that you have in writing, the better. You should never avoid firing an employee just because he or she is a member of a minority group, but you should still exercise caution.
Firing Employees: An Employee Who Has a Contract
When you have an employment contract with a staff member, you have to be extra careful. Take the contract from your files and read over it carefully to make sure you haven’t guaranteed longevity of employment. This doesn’t matter in at-will states, where you can fire an employee for any reason at any time, but you should still make sure you have everything in order.
Firing Employees: When Your Company Has Firing Policies
If your company has implemented policies and rules regarding the firing of employees, make sure you follow them. For example, some businesses guarantee a thirty-day warning for employees who are at risk of termination. If you have guaranteed such a policy, don’t renege.
Firing Employees: When You’ve Made Promises
This is why I encourage all employers to be careful — promises made verbally or in writing are dangerous should you have to make a decision for termination. For example, let’s say that an employee has been missing work, slacking off and distracting other workers. You call him or her into your office and state that you will give the employee thirty days to clean up his or her act. Then, ten days later, you find that the employee has been stealing from the company. Obviously, you need to fire the employee right away, but your promised him or her sixty days. Be sure, at that point, that you can prove the employee was stealing, thus negating your promise.