At first glance, firing an employee might seem simple enough — and in an ideal world, you will cleanly cut ties and part ways amicably. But in reality, it’s not always this easy, and things can quickly get messy when employers don’t understand the ins and outs of the termination process. Here are some important facts that you need to know before firing an employee and how to make it as painless as possible.
Laws and Regulations Surrounding Employee Termination
Employee rights are a serious matter, and there are several federal laws that were created to prevent wrongful termination. For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was designed to protect employees from being fired because of discrimination based on race, gender, religion and pregnancy. The Americans with Disability Act prohibits employers from firing employees due to disability. There’s also the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits employers from firing older employees due to their age.
The bottom line is that you must abide by these and similar federal laws when deciding to terminate an employee. If your decision is deemed to be discriminatory, because of whistle-blowing or as a means of retaliation, then it’s an open invitation to a lawsuit.
As an employer, it’s crucial that all employees are treated fairly and judged the same when making the choice to go through with a termination. For instance, if two employees were found to be guilty of the same type of misconduct, it would be unacceptable to fire one and merely give the other a slap on the wrist. You must also ensure that you understand your employees’ rights and provide them with the benefits they’re entitled to, which includes giving them their final paycheck and sometimes continued health coverage, unemployment compensation and severance pay.
Handling Things the Right Way
In order to protect your company and assets, there is a certain protocol to follow. One of the most important things you can do is maintain thorough documentation of any instances of misconduct or poor performance leading up to your decision to fire an employee. Doing so allows you to terminate on solid ground and greatly reduces the chances of complications arising.
Proper documentation allows you to point out specific instances to an employee when conducting a termination meeting and back up your claims. It should also keep you protected in case you’re hit with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Ideally, you’ll record manager’s memos documenting unacceptable performance/behavior along with eyewitness accounts.
When it comes to a termination meeting, it’s best to conduct it face-to-face in a private setting where it won’t be overheard by other employees. It’s also a good idea to have a third-party manager present to serve as a witness who can validate exactly what took place if need be. At the end of the meeting, you’ll want to inform an ex-employee which benefits they’re entitled to and make arrangements for them to receive their final paycheck.
Odds are you’re going to have to fire at least one employee at some point in time. Equipping yourself with the knowledge of relevant laws and understanding employee rights along with your responsibilities should help to make the process a relatively smooth one. This should ultimately protect you from wrongful termination lawsuits and make the process less painful in general.