Most employers avoid firing an employee until it becomes clear that the employee cannot adequately perform their job, or worse, the employee is harming the business. It can be very challenging to have to let an employee go. You may know that your employee struggles with financial issues or has a family to support, so you try to give them as many chances as you can. Unfortunately, there is sometimes no way around it and you have to bite the bullet and terminate an employee.
When you fire an employee, it is critical that you do so in a way which protects you and your business legally. One way that business owners make themselves vulnerable to a wrongful termination lawsuit is through messy employee terminations.
Not Having the Termination Meeting in Person
If you are a nonconfrontational person, you may consider firing an employee via email or on the phone. However, many experts highly recommend avoiding this shortcut. While it may be uncomfortable, firing an employee in person is the most respectful way to handle the situation. Even more importantly, an in-person meeting gives you the opportunity to make your message clear and answer any questions the employee has about the termination. You should always make sure that a terminated employee knows exactly what happened and why he or she was let go. This can be nearly impossible to do via electronic communication.
Not Including a Witness
Even if you do not think your employee will attempt to retaliate against you for firing him or her, it is best to play it safe and include a witness during the termination meeting. Having a third party present during the discussion can help protect your business against allegations of wrongful termination or other misconduct. Ideally, this witness is a human resources staff person who has had experience handling this type of situation. Even if you do not have an HR staff to fulfill this duty, having a third party of some kind present during the meeting will help confirm that the termination was conducted fairly and professionally, which could limit your potential liability.
Not Following a Predictable System of Warnings
Unless the employee you are letting go has committed an egregious act that requires immediate action, he or she should be given several chances before being terminated. These “chances” should be documented through formal warnings and performance reviews. Ideally, you also have a system in place for how to coach under-performing employees, and you have already exhausted those options before resorting to termination.
It is very important that the employee understands why he or she was fired, even if you are an at-will employer. When employees do not understand why they were let go, they often make up their own reasons. These types of misunderstandings can lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit. Such a lawsuit can cause serious headaches for you and your business, even if the claim is baseless.
Contact an Illinois Business Law Attorney
If you have employment-related concerns, the experienced Arlington Heights business law attorneys at A. Traub & Associates are equipped to help. Call 847-749-4182 to schedule a confidential consultation today.