Five Tips to Help Avoid Wrongful Termination Claims
Avoiding lawsuits for wrongful termination is a matter of knowing how wrongful termination claims are triggered — and how to avoid those claims. Employment discrimination lawyers in Riverside County can counsel you on your rights and obligations as they pertain to employment law.
Tip #1: Don’t allow your employees to believe they have an employment contract with your company and then disregard it
In California, employees are “at will” employees and can be fired at any time without reason, except when there is an express or even an implied contract that requires the termination to be for a “good cause.”
An employment contract may be “implied” in instances where there are:
- Oral promises made by managers or others in positions of influence
- Policy manuals that talk about a period of probation
- Disciplinary policies that specify only certain offenses as grounds for discharge or offer opportunities to improve work performance
- Written statements that promise special consideration for longevity
- Businesses that discharges employees for good causes only
Tip #2: Don’t create a small, exclusive circle of favored employees and ignore the rest
According to one business study, when a manager has favorites, the non-favorites quickly morph into disgruntled employees. Favored employees are encouraged, trusted, mentored and kept informed. The outsiders crave this treatment but are essentially ignored or merely tolerated — they are not motivated and not given opportunities to learn and grow in their jobs. This becomes the fertile field in which future wrongful termination claims take root.
Tip #3: Don’t terminate an employee for “unjust cause”
Most of us are aware that state and federal laws prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, pregnancy, age and, most recently, genetic predisposition to certain disorders. However, what is not so obvious is that employee drug use, retaliation for “whistleblowing” and termination for employee absence while performing a public service, among other things, may also subject the employer to liability for wrongful termination.
Tip #4: Don’t jolt the employee with an unexpected termination
There is never a good reason for a “surprise” termination. Whatever the size of the company, employees should receive graduated warning notices, discussed informally at first and thereafter in writing, that give the employee a clear understanding of how to improve his or her performance and provide a deadline for results. Keep detailed records of performance reviews and warnings given to the employee. If an employee has nothing but commendations and is suddenly fired, this can raise the specter of an irrational “bad cause” firing and could very well have a demoralizing effect on other employees, as well. Consultation with San Bernardino employment attorneys early on in the process could help you avoid serious issues down the road.
Tip #5: Don’t insult and embarrass the departing employee
Deliberately disparaging remarks made to an employee who is about to get fired, made either outside of or in the presence of co-workers, can readily form the basis of tort claims of defamation or the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The exit interview should be conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and consideration. The employee should leave with an understanding of the reasons for their termination, and you may want to provide some severance pay to help smooth the transition.
Because it is not always obvious whether an employee can be fired without cause, employers in California should consult a wrongful termination attorney at Schlecht, Shevlin & Shoenberger, A Law Corporation to learn how to protect themselves against wrongful termination lawsuits.