Mistakes to Avoid That Can Lead to Wrongful Termination Claims
In California, at-will employment is the default type of employment. An at-will employee in California can be terminated anytime and for any reason. However, California employers are prohibited from terminating employees for unlawful reasons. Terminations that are not permitted include those that revolve around retaliation and discrimination. For example, you cannot fire an employee for reporting sexual harassment or because of their race. If you fire an employee for an unlawful reason, the employee can file a wrongful termination claim against you and seek compensation.
While you can fire an employee for any reason as long as it is not unlawful, it is important that you take steps to ensure a smooth termination. Sometimes, employers make mistakes that result in wrongful termination claims being filed against them, despite them being innocent. The following are some mistakes employers make that can lead to wrongful termination claims.Failing to Keep Proper Documentation
When an employee is hired, they are made aware of performance goals and how they are expected to behave. If an employee performs poorly or acts in a manner that is contrary to company policies, their performance and behavior should be documented. Before you terminate an employee, check to see if there is an objective trail of documentation that can support the termination.Failing to Examine the Employee File Before Termination
It is crucial that you examine the employee file before firing them. Check contracts, performance reviews, and union contracts. This way, you can ensure you follow the proper procedures if, for example, the employee is under contract.Failing to Provide a Clear, Short, and Consistent Reason for Termination
When firing an employee, you should give them a clear and concise reason for your decision. You don’t have to provide too much information as long as the short answer informs the employee of the exact reason for the termination. It may be best to have someone witness the termination.
Apart from being clear and concise, you should ensure you are consistent with your explanations for the termination in any paperwork you fill out. Inconsistency can create suspicion.Failing to Make Outstanding Payments
Before letting an employee go, pay them what you owe them. Even if you only owe the employee three hours of pay, ensure they get their pay. If possible, have a check at the termination meeting.
You may also want to consider whether you should pay the employee severance pay. Even if you are not required to pay severance pay, it may be a good idea to pay some severance to soften the blow of employment and reduce the risk of legal disputes.Failing to Seek the Assistance of an Attorney
In most cases, employers do not need to seek the assistance of an attorney before terminating an employee. However, there are cases where it is best to consult an attorney before terminating an employee.Contact Us for Legal Help
Do you need help with an employment law-related matter? Contact our experienced employment attorneys in San Francisco at SAC Attorneys LLP.