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It's one thing to determine that you want to start the termination process and fire someone. It's another thing altogether to be sure that your actions are in line with relevant state and federal laws, company policies, and any other prevailing norms where you work. Your goal is twofold. First, you want to remove a person or persons from the company who need to be removed. Second, you want to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits. The legal aspects of letting someone go can be very serious.
So let me start with a clear disclaimer. A video like this isn't enough. This will be a useful introduction, but before you consider letting someone go, you have to consult with professionals who know the laws and other employment guidelines that should be applied to the case you're considering. Typically, you'll start by seeing someone in HR or a legal professional. They can help you avoid costly mistakes. For example, in some states even if you follow the letter of the law, but you fire someone in a manner that's different than how's it's been done in the past, you can get in trouble.
That's why you want to seek expert advice. There are many employment laws that might be cited when someone wants to sue for wrongful termination. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the American with Disabilities Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Equal Pay Act, and many more. And in addition, there are many state laws to consider as well. Now many first time managers or small business owners sometimes think they don't have to worry about being sued because they work in a state that uses what's called employment at will.
This means an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason except an illegal reason without any legal liability. In turn, the employee is free to leave a job at any time for any reason again with no legal liability. That's the general presumption in most states, but it can be changed in an employment contract. And it's also true there are exceptions to this rule. For example, just because there's employment at will doesn't mean you can fire someone as retaliation for filing a claim, or asserting their legal rights.
Nor can you fire them for refusing to do something illegal, and you certainly can't discriminate. In fact, discrimination is 1 of the most common claims used in wrongful termination suits. Here the former employee and their lawyers use the federal anti-discrimination statutes which prohibit firing or refusing to hire a person based on race, religion, age, handicap status, or 1 of several other factors. Another very common type of lawsuit concerns exempt versus non-exempt status.
Earlier I mentioned the Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA. This law states that exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay. The exempt are typically salaried professionals; whereas, the non-exempt are hourly. So whether or not a particular job is legally classified as exempt versus non-exempt can save a company money or cost them a lot of money. The FLSA and every other major employment law has many important details probably more than any 1 manager can learn and remember, and based on what happens in the courts each year, they keep changing.
If you're among the minority of employers working with labor unions, you have yet another set of considerations set forth in a union contract. Here you'll face definitions about what constitutes a just cause for termination even if you're in an employment at will state. Wow! So what's the average manager supposed to do with all of this? First and foremost, know who your go-to person is at work for expert help with these matters.
Remember to always seek their counsel before making any significant employment-related decisions especially termination decisions. If your company offers training in this area, take it. If they don't and you're a manager, ask for funding so you can find the training externally. At a minimum, get on the internet where you'll find many free resources that will help you brush up on the basics about the major laws and the causes of most wrongful termination lawsuits.
And don't forget the most important piece of advice. Become an expert at properly documenting performance. Evidence of poor performance is the best defense when explaining a termination decision. You know most managers will never be named in a lawsuit, but the consequences of not being prepared can be quite large if it does happen. This video in this course can be a good place to start. Just remember that the best way to deal with wrongful termination lawsuits is to hire, train, and lead in such a way that they never happen in the first place.
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