As a business owner, you’re always trying to help the company improve. You identify an employee who isn’t cutting it, and you decide that the best way to increase production, efficiency and quality is simply to let them go. You’ve tried training them and they’re not improving personally, so it’s time to move on.
Can you just do this at your earliest convenience, even if it’s a complete shock to the employee? Or do you need to give them some sort of warning in advance, such as a two-weeks’ notice or a warning that they’ll be fired if they don’t improve?
Did you tell the employee you would warn them?
The big question here is what the employee was told would happen when they took the job. If you told them nothing, there is no legal obligation to warn them. You could approach them immediately and tell them to have their stuff out of the office by the end of the day. They may not like it, but you have not violated any employment laws if you’re an at-will employer.
That said, if the employee is on a contract, the terms of that contract may indicate that they get a warning or at least advance notice. If so, you must adhere to the contract. Failing to do so could result in a lawsuit for wrongful termination.
Likewise, even at-will employees may have more protections due to company policies or an employee handbook. These aren’t contracts, but, if they tell employees that they’ll get warnings in advance or that they’ll get notice before being fired, then you have to follow the company’s own policies. If you give most of your employees proper warning and then fire this particular one without doing so, in breach of your own policies, then you could also face a lawsuit for wrongful termination or perhaps even discrimination.
What if you are already encountering such a lawsuit?
The above can help you know how to act to avoid legal action, but what if it’s already too late? If you are already facing a lawsuit after letting someone go, you need to know exactly what steps to take.