Don't Let a Termination Turn Into a Lawsuit
Having to fire an employee is unpleasant enough. Employers sometimes compound the situation by doing things in the termination process that come back to bite them in the form of an employee's lawsuit.
Firings may cause employees to cry, become defensive, or even turn violent. Others may try to distort what happens during the termination meeting to justify a lawsuit. To protect yourself legally, consider having someone else with you during the meeting so that no one can question what you say. Document what occurred in the meeting and have the witness sign the document.
Here are some ways to defuse fired employees' justifications for a lawsuit:
Avoid heightening an already emotional situation. Don't spring the news suddenly or berate the employee in front of others.
Employees should never be completely surprised by a termination. Unless the termination involves flagrant behavior that warrants immediate termination, use the progressive disciplinary process. Document the steps taken in the disciplinary process! Give employees regular feedback on their performance and suggest ways for them to improve. At the very least, poor performance reviews will prove to a court that you had valid reasons for firing the employee.
Watch what you say
On the day you fire someone, the employee will remember whatever you say in the worst possible light. While you should always avoid making discriminatory statements, be especially cautious during a termination meeting.
Don't be too kind
You may feel compassion for the person you must fire, but don't express your feelings in the wrong way. If the employee's performance is substandard, don't offer compliments on any aspect of his or her performance. Doing so might make you feel better, but it will only give the employee cause to question and challenge the reasons for termination. Your off-handed compliments could turn up as evidence against you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Don't discuss the reasons for termination with other employees. It's enough to say, "John will not be working with us anymore." Some managers have spoken too freely about the reasons for an employee's termination, only to find themselves in court defending themselves against a defamation of character lawsuit.
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