July 20, 2024
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July 20, 2024
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How to Fire an Employee Without Getting Sued

Have you ever wanted to fire someone but didn’t act? If so, you are not alone. In exploring reasons why CEOs fail, a 1999 article in Fortune magazine found that CEOs were often unwilling to fix people problems quickly. Interestingly, these CEOs confessed that they had ignored an inner voice that warned them of a problem and refused to listen to the people around them. When the CEOs finally did acknowledge that the person had to go, their top reason not to fire the problem employee was fear of being sued.

Not taking action has its own set of consequences, including wasting manager’s time and effort, increased error rates, lost opportunity and negative impact on other workers’ morale and productivity. In the worst set of circumstances, you can be sued for not firing someone who needs to go.

10 Tips to Avoid Being Sued for Wrongful Termination:

1) Make sure that the employees know what is expected of them by providing them with up-to-date job descriptions and by regularly and clearly communicating your performance and behavior expectations.

2) For non-urgent matters, like lateness, use disciplinary procedures that are predictable, follow a logical sequence, and are flexible. The typical process is verbal warning, written reprimand, probationary and final written warning, and termination. Following this sequence ensures that termination is a logical consequence and is not a surprise to the employee. For urgent matters, like bringing a weapon into the workplace, you can fire someone immediately.

3) If the facts of what the problem employee is or isn’t doing are at all unclear, conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation.

4) When you first notice an issue with an employee, begin keeping accurate written records. Document and date every incident and meeting.

5) Never fire someone illegally – because they filed a worker’s compensation claim, they were a “whistle-blower,” are taking FMLA, etc.

6) Involve your human resources department and follow your company policies.

7) Ensure that members of a protected class (race, color, religion, nationality, gender, age, disability) are treated the same as employees outside the classification.

8) Conduct the termination face-to-face, include a witness, and meet in a private setting.

9) The termination meeting should last no more than 15 minutes. Tell the employee that he or she is being terminated, give the reason, ask for his or her explanation and make it clear that the decision is final. Most workers who sue their former employers do so because they want a full explanation of why they were let go or want a chance to tell their side of the story.

10) Explain what benefits the employee will receive and when he or she will receive their final paycheck. Offer severance and career outplacement, explain your job reference policy, review confidentiality and non-compete agreements, and collect company property.

No matter what, treat the employee with respect.

By Judith Lindenberger

 Judith Lindenberger gets leadership. She is the rare coach and trainer capable of coupling personal growth with professional development, which is why top companies and individuals invite her to work with them. Judy has more than thirty years of experience and is a trusted HR specialist of the highest level. Her background includes designing and facilitating the first-ever sexual harassment prevention training for federal workers, conducting a comprehensive survey on workplace bullying, leading the management training department for a major financial organization and creating a highly successful, global mentoring program for a Fortune 500 company which won the national Athena Award for Mentoring for two consecutive years. She is a certified career coach and master trainer.


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