Avoiding Wrongful Employee Termination

As an employer, it is your responsibility to be sure that your employees are behaving in a professional manner and completing their job tasks as assigned. On occasion, you may be faced with the decision to terminate an employee’s position at your company, but before you do so it is important to be familiar with the laws about when you can or cannot fire your employees. If you don’t handle the termination by following labor laws, you may find yourself in the middle of a wrongful termination lawsuit — which will not only cause financial burden on your company, but can also spoil your reputation as a business.

Labor laws protect employees from being fired unfairly or unjustly, but there is a list of things that you can legally terminate employment for. If your employee has done any one of the following, your reason for terminating the employee will usually hold up in court if the employee opens a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Take note of the following situations for avoiding wrongful employee termination:

Persistent incompetence. In the case of an employee showing incompetence on a regular basis, where he or she does not seem to grasp their required job duties, the termination is viewed as legitimate. Before terminating an employee for incompetence, it is important to give your employee every chance to improve their work performance, including additional training and a reasonable amount of time for learning tasks.

Company policy violation. You have no doubt introduced a very specific company policy that details what is and is not allowed. If an employee violates your company policy, even after having read and signed the policy, the termination is viewed as fair. The policy violation may be any number of things including breaking a confidentiality agreement, being verbally abusive to colleagues, or being charged with harassment.

Unexcused lateness or absences. Most businesses have detailed rules about lateness and unexcused absences, such as a maximum amount of unexplained absences, not calling in when they are ill, or being persistently late. Absenteeism and tardiness negatively affects the employee’s reputation, as well as their co-workers that have to pick up the slack. In the case of these missed work days not being excused with an appropriate doctor’s note or other valid excuse, it is often permissible to terminate their employment when the problem continues and the employee has had sufficient warning.

Alcohol and drug use. Most companies have a strict no alcohol or drugs policy so when an employee ignores this policy by showing up to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they are in direct violation of the policy. As the business owner, it is up to you whether you want to give a warning or offer counseling or rehabilitation for your employee before terminating employment.  

Workplace violence. Employees who are involved in physical altercations in the workplace are keeping their co-workers from the right to a safe work environment. This is no doubt a defiance of one of your company policies and is rights for termination. Depending on the severity of the altercation, you may choose whether to give a warning first or terminate their employment immediately.

Illegal actions. If you have solid proof that your employee has committed illegal actions against your company such as embezzlement or theft, this is means for an immediate termination of employment. However, it is important that you are 100% sure the employee is at fault and take further steps to guarantee your proof.

Falsified information. At the bottom of every job application, is a statement that says any individual who lies or falsifies information on the application, is subject to termination. As a business owner, you have the right to follow this and terminate any employee who is caught falsifying information, such as lying about professional references, work experience, or education.

Terminating employment is often one of the most difficult jobs an employer must face, but in some cases it is necessary. When your employee is in direct violation of company policies, making for an unsafe work environment, or they are not completing tasks as assigned, you have the right to terminate employment. Be sure you are aware of the valid reasons why an employee may be terminated and not violate labor laws in the process. If in doubt, contact an attorney.