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“I Thought I got Rid of that Guy for Good”

A person writing on legal documents.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If an employer makes a termination that is deemed “wrongful” in a  court of law, you could have a huge lawsuit on your hands, which we all know is extremely harmful to your organization. The legal fees alone will put a huge dent in your finances, but at the same time, your reputation could be at risk as well. Let’s go over what the judicial system considers a “wrongful termination” so that you can be prepared to avoid them in the future.

Was it Really Wrong?

Whether you think you were justified in a termination is irrelevant, because it’s not up to you. Let’s talk about the court’s guidelines, so we can make sure we are playing by the book. It’s important to know that if you hire an employee that is not under an employment contract, then they are working on an “at-will” basis. Basically, this means that you can fire an employee at any time for ignoring their duties, not performing up to the standard, acting dishonestly, or for directly disobeying the orders that they were given. Speaking of disobeying orders, we highly suggest that whenever you make a new hire, you have a clear set of guidelines that spell out all of your company’s rules, policies, and standards very clearly in an employee handbook. It’s also important that you have your employees sign the handbook saying that they understand and will comply. If a court ever questions a termination, and you made the termination strictly on the basis that the employee was disobeying orders and had their signed copy of your employee handbook on file, then it could save your back in the long run.

So what’s the Risk?

Over time, the courts have become more and more strict at limiting at-will employment, so the risk has become more of a threat to employers. There are some exceptions to at-will employment terminations that you must avoid at all costs.

First and foremost, discrimination is the leading cause of most terminations that are considered wrongful. If an employee can prove that a termination was made on the basis of discrimination of gender, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin, then there will be serious repercussions.

Another example of wrongful termination is if an employee is hired under a contract and terminated before the specified period of time on the contract is over, for a reason not listed in the contract’s guidelines. So be careful in writing the fine details of your employment contracts to make sure you won’t be facing any liabilities.

Next, you can’t make a fire based on retaliation of employees having filed a complaint, or an employee exercising a right under public policy. For example, if an employee were to report their employer for violating work space safety precautions, they can’t fire them to avoid the paperwork and make the changes. At the end of the day, you may be faced with two lawsuits, one for not making the corrections, and then another for making a wrongful termination.

Another scenario where a termination will be deemed unlawful is when an employer requests the employee to perform an illegal act and the employee refuses, and the employer makes a termination in retaliation. This one is pretty straightforward, so try to be sure your practices are all legal and fair.

There are only two other common forms of wrongful termination, being on the basis of sexual harassment, and also being fired for absence while an employee has the right to time off, such as military or pregnancy leave. If an employee is terminated for their absence even though it was their right to be away, you will surely be facing some consequences.

We don’t want to have to see you face any court cases concerning employment liabilities, because it could be very harmful to your company, or in some cases, the end of your organization as you know it. Make sure you follow the court’s guidelines, and use sound judgement for determining what the court would consider “reasonable” in their eyes, so you won’t have to face any repercussions.

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