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There are many reasons why a business owner might want to let someone go. If you have recently found yourself in this predicament, you may be wondering how you should proceed. While you may have perfectly legitimate reasons for terminating an employee, they will most likely be upset if you do. They may even be convinced you should not have fired them.
Before you take any action, it is important to determine if you would be breaking any laws by firing a troublesome employee. It’s important to understand if they would have a strong case should they decide to sue you.
Naturally, as an employer, you have no intention of acting illegally. You may even feel there’s a legitimate reason behind your actions. Your attorney can help you determine whether terminating your employee will be legal or not.
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You might be terminating someone wrongfully if:
- Firing them would amount to a breach of your employment contract with them.
- You’re letting them go because they filed a complaint against you or they are a whistleblower.
- They could make a case against you that you’re terminating them because you’re discriminating against them.
- Letting them go would violate your company’s policies.
What Does At-Will Employment Mean?
Most employment situations in the United States are considered to be at-will. This means that an employer is not obligated to give an employee a reason when terminating them. You can let an employee go at any time, providing the reason for doing so is not illegal.
Among the reasons an employer can cite for terminating an employee are:
- Their job performance or performance reviews have not met expected levels.
- The employee violated a clause in the employee handbook.
- They are constantly late, have too many absences, or have not demonstrated that they are a team player.
- The employee has damaged company property, stolen from the company, or committed any other crime.
- They have been violent against or harassed your other workers
Additionally, an employer does not need to give an employee a period of notice, a formal hearing, or a chance to defend himself or herself. However, all employers should bear in mind that their terminated employees may well talk to a wrongful termination lawyer about their situation. They may wish to determine whether their termination can be considered wrongful.
What Are Grounds for a Wrongful Termination Suit?
A former employee may have grounds to sue you in cases in which any of these actions are present:
Firing Someone Due to Discrimination
Whether discrimination is based on national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, gender, or race, it means that the employer has violated federal laws that state that it is illegal for any employer to discriminate. These laws are quite clear and explicit. You should review them before terminating an employee to determine if they might have a case against you if you fire them.
Terminating Someone Due to Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly states that you cannot fire someone if they ask you for accommodations for any disability status. Also, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission serves to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to gain employment. It is also illegal to fire an employee if the employer discovers an employee’s genetic information and uses it to fire that employee.
Termination Due to Whistleblowing
If you terminate someone because of whistleblowing or because they lodged a complaint or formed a union, the law considers that to be retaliation. Therefore, your former employee may have grounds to sue.
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Could Someone Sue You for Wrongful Termination?
An employee generally has two years from their termination to bring a lawsuit. A wrongful termination attorney will likely recommend to them that they file as soon as possible in order for witnesses’ testimonies to still be fresh. Additionally, documents and paperwork will be easier to track down.
Employers, too, must consult their attorneys. Your attorney will talk with you about your options and the strength of your case.