Tips for Terminating an Employee From a Naperville Business Lawyer

terminating, Naperville employment lawyerIn a recent post, I talked a little about some questions that business owners and hiring managers should avoid when conducting employment interviews. Most of the questions I discussed have the potential to open an employer to claims of employment discrimination. If you own a business, it is crucial to have legally sound hiring practices in place so that your company is fully protected.

As a business law attorney, I have also helped many clients develop legally sound—for lack of a better word—“firing” practices as well. It is always difficult to let an employee go, but it is important to handle the termination properly so that you can avoid misunderstandings and possible repercussions.

No Big Surprises

Illinois is an at-will employment state which means in the absence of a valid employment contract, you as an employer have the right to end the working relationship with any employee at any time for any reason, as long as the reason is not considered discriminatory against a protected class of people. That said, there is almost no justification for blindsiding an employee by firing them for not living up to your expectations. Of course, if the employee has done something truly egregious, firing him or her on the spot may be appropriate, but that is rarely the case in most companies. Usually, the decision to terminate an employee is based on a pattern of poor behavior and failed attempts at improvement. By giving workers the chance to improve first, you can put them on notice that their jobs may be in jeopardy unless changes are made.

Document Everything

It is a good idea for every company to have a disciplinary process and to spell out its steps in an employee handbook. Discipline should be handled the same way for every employee across the board, or you risk discrimination claims down the road. Any time that you must address a concern with an employee, make a note of the issue, the type of warning/write up, and the employee’s response. As you progress toward termination, keep even more detailed records. By documenting your disciplinary procedures, you will be able to refute claims that you treated an employee unfairly or that the termination was baseless.

Respect and Dignity

Even if you are extremely upset over having to fire an employee, maintain your composure and treat the employee like an adult. Yelling and scolding are pointless; you have already decided to part ways. A termination should always be handled face to face if at all possible, and you should try to have a witness. (Human resources (HR) staff members are best for this.) Be direct and get right to the point. Make sure that the employee understands that your decision is final. Work out arrangements for the return of any company property and discuss how the employee should expect his or her final paycheck. Also, try to arrange your meeting at a time where the terminated worker can leave quietly without attracting the attention of co-workers. Being fired—even for a just cause—can be humiliating and there is no reason to make things worse.

No Empty Promises

As the meeting wraps up, you may be tempted to offer platitudes like “If I can ever help, let me know,” or “Maybe you can apply again down the road.” You should never make a promise you do not intend to keep. You can certainly wish the employee well and offer basic support, but you do not owe him or her anything. Promises can also create the impression that your decision to fire the employee is not final.

Need to Fire an Employee?

If you own a business and have questions about terminating employees without putting your company in jeopardy of a wrongful termination lawsuit, contact an experienced Naperville business law attorney. Call 630-756-1160 for a confidential consultation at The Gierach Law Firm today.




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