As a business owner, you rely on your employees to work hard and commit to their jobs. However, on occasion you’ll be forced with the decision of whether or not you should fire an employee and are wondering if your reasons are valid. While there are many reasons you can legally fire an employee, such as lying on their job application, or consistently not doing what is expected of them, there is also a number of situations you cannot legally fire a worker. A variety of laws prohibit firing employees for certain things, and the following is a list of the five most common illegal reasons to fire employees, though certainly not all.
1) Discrimination – Federal laws are in place to prevent discrimination in the workplace, which is most commonly enforced when making hiring decisions. These same anti-discrimination laws are enforced when it comes to firing employees as well. You cannot legally fire an employee for discrimination purposes such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, sex, religion, or disabilities. It is also illegal to fire an employee due to pregnancy, childbirth, and other medical conditions. Depending on your state, additional situations might be considered discrimination, such as firing a worker based on their marital status or sexual orientation.
2) Retaliation – It’s also against the law to fire an employee for retaliation purposes, such as an employee suing you for discriminating them in the workplace, or other ways of asserting their rights per the federal and state laws. Discrimination is always illegal in the workplace, and this includes denying promotions, or treating certain employees unjustly. For example, if you have an employee that becomes pregnant, and is therefore denied certain work privileges as a result, and they turn around and sue you for discrimination; you are unable to fire her for this reason alone. It is illegal to fire an employee if they have brought a case against you for discriminating them in the workplace, as this is against federal and state laws.
3) Lie Detector Test Refusal– On occasion you may be faced with a situation in the workplace where employees will be asked to take a polygraph. If an employee refuses to take the test, you cannot fire them over the refusal. There is a law against it, called the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which states employees have a right to refuse the polygraph test, as polygraphs tests are prohibited in most cases.
4) Employee’s Alien Status – If your employee is able to work in the United States legally, it is therefore illegal to fire them based on their alien status. The Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) does not allow termination of a worker’s employment based on the fact they are an immigrant, as long as they are eligible for working in the US. This also falls under the anti-discrimination laws.
5) Employer Failing to Follow Termination Procedures – If your company has an employee handbook that details certain procedures in the workplace for firing employees, and you go against these procedures, the terminated employee can come back and sue you for wrongful termination. You must follow the proper procedures listed in the handbook for firing an employee, including sufficient warnings, and a list of reasons you can or cannot fire your workers.
When you run a business, you want to be able to rely on your employees to pick up the slack and do their part for increased business success. If you come to a situation where an employee’s employment status needs to be terminated, be sure to follow employment laws and avoid illegal reasons to fire employees. When in doubt, always speak with an attorney.