How do I avoid mistakes when I am terminating an employee?
Business owners in the DFW Metroplex, Rio Grande Valley and across Texas need to make difficult decisions when they are trying to operate successfully. This goes beyond creating a product or service; gathering financing; getting investors; creating an infrastructure; and hiring employees. It sometimes extends to the more difficult aspects of owning a business: firing employees.
This is never easy, but is often necessary. Still, there are proper ways to terminate someone and ways that could lead to hard feelings and the possibility of a legal claim. During the hiring process, it is important for employers to make sure employees understand and are provided with materials that explain disciplinary procedures – including when they might be subject to termination. Even with that, some former employees might make assertions that they were subjected to legal violations and file a claim. Being prepared can help with avoiding this and lodging a defense.
How Texas businesses can deal with wrongful termination claims
Texas is an “employment at-will” state. This means that employers can simply fire an employee if they choose to do so and generally do not need to give a reason. There is no contract. The employee also has the right to simply quit the job if they want to and there is no recourse on the part of the employer.
Most employers do not terminate employees without reason. There are certain steps that might help prevent an employment law claim when firing the person. Even if the terminated employee decides to file a claim, following the fundamentals can create a chain of evidence to show there was no illegality involved in the decision to end the employer-employee relationship.
Employers who are placing an employee on notice or telling them that there is a good chance they are set to be let go if they do not improve their performance can explain why this is the case and give the employee an opportunity to get better. A discussion as to why the termination is being done or listening to the employee’s side of the story could be helpful.
The employer does not need to give the employee reasonable warning when they are fired. It might be useful to do so to show that it is a justifiable decision and the employee does not have a case to claim there was a legal violation. It is especially critical to follow the procedures that were laid out with the employee when they were hired. If the employee handbook specifically said certain requirements needed to be met to maintain employment or behaviors would not be tolerated, then the termination can be defended if it is alleged to have been wrongful. Employers should adhere to their handbooks just as employees should.
Having legal advice with potential employment law claims is key
Given the way in which disgruntled former employees will want to recover some form of compensation for illegal behaviors they believe were perpetrated against them, it is imperative for business owners to be fully prepared for every eventuality. This is true for any size business, but it is particularly crucial for medium and smaller businesses for whom one legal claim can do untold damage to their income and reputation.
It is easy to get caught up in the moment when an employee does something wrong or is caught engaging in illegal activity. Employers certainly have the right to terminate employees if they choose to do so. However, it must be done in the right way to prevent the former employee from filing a legal claim and having a chance at winning.
To be fully prepared beforehand, it is wise to adhere to employment law, have an employee handbook that explains what is expected and the consequences for wrongdoing. After the termination, it is also useful to have experienced and professional assistance with assessing an employment claim and defending it. This is true whether it is simply wrongful termination or it extends to more problematic accusations like discrimination, harassment, failure to pay severance and more.