No one likes to fire an employee, but sometimes it’s necessary. Just make sure you’ve done everything possible to avoid a lawsuit from a disgruntled ex-employee. Watch out for these potential problems:
- Prior complaints. If the employee has a history of making complaints against your organization—for harassment, discrimination, safety—you could be open to a charge of retaliation.
- Age. Be careful about terminating anyone over the age of 40—especially if you plan to replace him or her with a younger worker. Age-discrimination lawsuits result in some of the mostly costly awards to former employees.
- Protected classes. This should be a no-brainer, but the complaints keep coming. State and federal laws prohibit firing anyone because of his or her sex, race, religion, national origin, or disability. Be sure you can show that you’re not firing someone for any of these factors.
- Employment contracts. Review any contracts that cover the scope and duration of an employee’s work. Find out what your options and obligations are. You may be liable for severance pay or the contract may entitle the worker to an extra warning period on top of your own disciplinary procedures.
- Promises of security. Be careful not to casually say something that might imply a guarantee of future employment. A statement like “You’ll always have a job here” can cause nightmares when business slows down and you need to lay someone off.
- Multiple layoffs. If you need to fire several employees at the same time, whatever the reason, make sure you’re not going to be seen as targeting a particular group of people—all the women, for example, or everyone over 40.