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How to Fire Employees Legally

By Laura Strachan, Esq. | Last updated on

The corner office with a view, the premier parking spot, the bigger paycheck ... being a boss is the life. Except when it comes to firing employees. The inevitably uncomfortable conversation is an often dreaded aspect of being in a position of power, and one that almost every employer is confronted with at one time or another.

More than coming up with the right words to say, there are some major considerations every employer should also familiarize themselves with to ensure that they are firing or laying off employees legally. Here are some tips for keeping things legal....

  • Make sure that you have a valid reason for firing (or laying off) the employee. Some invalid reasons include: retaliation, complaining about OSHA violations, discrimination, alien status, and any violation of public policy.
  • Keep it confidential: a company-wide Eblast is probably not the best approach to alerting others in the company of the employees' situation. Rather, only telling those individuals that need to know is the best approach to ensuring that the employee does not hear about his firing before it happens.
  • Plan ahead: sounds simple enough, but by considering all the legal requirements you need to comport with before firing the employee, you will also alleviate a lot of legal concerns that may occur post-firing. This may include: severance offers, monies due, terms in the employment contract, company policies, etc.
  • Keep a paper trail: keeping copies of performance reviews, relevant correspondence, and other personnel documents will help protect you should there be a lawsuit later on.
  • The employee should not be completely surprised by the firing or lay-off. Whether it is keeping employees abreast of the struggling finances of the company, or alerting the worker to poor job performance, there should be a dialogue before the employment termination.

Although a majority of the American workforce is based on "at will" employment, essentially meaning that the employer-employee relationship can be severed at any time, there are still some viable concerns over a wrongful termination suit in any situation. Making sure you have a valid reason for firing an employee, and planning the conversation ahead of time will help with the actual firing and protect your company from many of the legal issues that follow.

In the end, honesty is almost always the best policy, and usually appreciated as the employee can take your reasons with them as they job hunt.

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