Unless your employee was clearly asking for it, firing an employee is never pleasant. Not to mention that improper termination of one employee can leave you with a wrongful termination case on your hands, which could cost your business big time (or ruin it altogether). What is the right way (and legal) to fire an employee and not get into trouble?
At-will vs contract employees: who can be fired legally?
If your business is based in Los Angeles, chances are that your employees are employed on an “at-will” basis. Under state law in California, employers have the right to fire their “at-will” employees at any given time and for any reason (or no reason at all). However, firing an employee the wrong way could still cause you a big, painful headache.
On the other hand, If you have a written or verbal contract between you and your employee, you can still terminate him/her if you have evidence of any of the following: their poor performance, negligence at work, insubordination or dishonesty or because your company is no longer in need of the employee’s position.
Could firing an at-will employee result in wrongful termination?
Unless you do everything the right way, it could. When terminating an at-will employee there is a certain legal exception to the at-will doctrine you must be aware of:
- Discrimination: If your employee can prove in court that you fired him/her just because of their race, age, gender, disability, medical condition, religion, national origin or sexual orientation, you may get slapped with a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- Retaliation: If your employee has evidence that his/her termination was an act of retaliation for exposing negligence or wrongdoing within the company or for refusing to perform illegal duties, you may face a wrongful termination claim as well.
Consult our Los Angeles wrongful termination attorney today to evaluate your risk of getting slapped with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Call Rager & Yoon – Employment Lawyers at 310-527-6994 to determine whether or not you’re at risk of discrimination- or retaliation-related claim.
Fun fact: retaliation has become the most popular form of discrimination cited in wrongful termination lawsuits in the U.S., surpassing race discrimination.
How to avoid wrongful termination when firing an employee?
The one tried-and-true way to terminate an employee legally without giving them even the tiniest reason to believe they were wrongfully terminated is a progressive discipline policy. Unless you really have to, never terminate an employee without giving him oral and written warnings weeks prior to your final decision.
A termination should never come as a surprise for an employee. Instead, they must be warned that the company is not satisfied with his/her performance and give him/her time to improve. If the employee fails to improve their performance over the course of a specified period of time, it’s time to terminate them.
A progressive discipline policy allows you to have documented evidence that the employee was warned of their poor performance or negligence and that you gave him/her a chance to improve. The policy works this way: every time an employee breaks a rule or pushes his bad performance too far, you increase the severity of a penalty. It usually starts with an oral warning and progress all the way up to written warnings, suspension and then termination.
In a nutshell, the less the employee is surprised that they were fired, the fewer the chances they will pursue a wrongful termination claim. Let our experienced wrongful termination attorney in Los Angeles help you figure out the best strategy to fire a particular employee and avoid wrongful termination and other legal trouble.
Call Rager & Yoon – Employment Lawyers at 310-527-6994 today for a free initial consultation.
Fun fact #2: A 2011 study found that wrongful termination lawsuits had risen 260% in the past two decades in California alone. Meaning: you certainly don’t want to take your chances by firing employees the wrong way.