Employees Behaving Badly: Know Your Labor Law Before Firing Someone

As an employer, you have a responsibility to your company and the people who work there, but sometimes, employees can behave badly. Firing them, though, can be a tricky situation you must be prepared for at all times and at all costs.

Protecting Your Interests From Day One

Many complicated situations can befall a company with employees, making it necessary for you to have access to a legal advisor. Even just meeting with a labor lawyer and keeping their business card on hand will keep you protected, ready for the inevitable dispute or sudden firing. Additionally, it's important that you keep accurate records on the misconduct of all your employees, so you can prove your actions were justified if you have to let someone go. They might interpret the firing as being motivated by another issue, such as race, gender or age; however, as long as you're well-documented, you should have no problem defending your decision.

Also, be sure to avoid special contracts that may supersede the at-will employment law that governs your state (unless you happen to be in Montana, where at-will termination only applies during an employee's probationary period). Such contracts, when worded to circumvent at-will, could leave you with fewer options as an employer, although it may make you more appealing to potential employees.

Reasons You Should Never Fire An Employee

The PC (Politically Correct) environment is fairly heated up these days, but that doesn't mean you can relieve an employee of their position simply because someone was offended by their actions. People come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, and while they might not always see eye-to-eye, their constitutional rights still apply. Even under the provisions of at-will employment, your employees could hire an attorney, seeking legal action against you, if they're fired for the wrong reasons:

  • Reporting unsafe, unsanitary or otherwise illegal working conditions, including, but not limited to forms of harassment that may be going on.
  • Discrimination of any kind, such as racial, religious, political or sexual.
  • Taking time off as allowed by law, like to serve on a jury.
  • Filing for worker's compensation.

Although you may feel justified for firing an employee simply because you're the owner, manager or supervisor and you find flaws in their performance, if you're not careful, letting someone go can really come back to haunt you, even in a public way.

When You're Within Your Employment Law Rights, Pink Slip The Poor Performers

Of course, you're not without protection yourself as the business owner or operator; hence, it pays to know how you can defend your actions according to the law. If a particular employee is not up to par in some way and you've documented their historical insubordination or unsatisfactory performance, tactfully handle the dismissal, according to company policy and the laws governing:

  • Theft of merchandise, supplies, cash or anything else belonging to the company, including intellectual property.
  • Harassing other employees, clients or management.
  • Acting in such a manner as to put your business reputation at risk.
  • Unexcused or unexplained absences, when arrangements weren't made to cover their shifts and explain themselves to their supervisor.
  • Negligent or ignorant conduct resulting in damaged goods delayed assembly lines or even offense to customers and other company associates.

So long as you have a specific cause-and-effect you can correlate with the employee's actions or inactions, such as to demonstrate how they were responsible for lost resources, customers or creating adverse working conditions for other employees, you should be well within your rights to let them go

How To (Try To) Part Ways Amicably

As or after you terminate someone's employment with you, you're obligated to inform them of a few key issues:

  • What will happen to their group health insurance policy, if they have one?
  • If and how they may be eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • How you're handling their final paycheck and any vacation/sick days they're entitled to, as guided by your local labor laws.
  • Any other (contractual) arrangement that existed between you and the employee must be addressed and enacted, according to your agreement.

Don't leave your company vulnerable to lawsuits or bad press and instead, have a labor lawyer on your side from the get-go and be prepared for anything. You simply have too much at stake to leave these important issues to chance. To learn more, contact a law firm like John H. Haskin & Associates, LLC.