Here’s a tip to keep in mind the next time you must terminate an employee: Even if you don’t intend to tell the worker why he is being fired, be sure to carefully document the reasons. That way, if you are challenged later in court, you can point to the contemporaneously produced record as evidence you had a legitimate, business-related reason for your decision.
Don’t provide shifting explanations—especially directly to the employee or in emails between managers. That makes it look as if you are manufacturing the reason as a cover for another, illegitimate reason.
Recent case: Dennis Corbisiero worked for Leica Microsystems from 1972 until he was terminated in late 2008. At the time, he was 64 years old and worked as an area sales director.
At his termination meeting, supervisors told him he had been selected for a reduction in force because he had failed to provide a strategic plan when asked and did not move demo equipment as fast as necessary. An earlier internal memo said Corbisiero was picked because he wasn’t meeting sales quotas.
Later, a supervisor testified in court that Corbisiero was picked because he was “combative,” “not a team player” and “difficult to work with.”
Corbisiero argued that those shifting reasons were just a cover for wanting to get rid of the oldest worker while retaining younger workers.
The court said that was enough evidence to keep the case alive. (Corbisiero v. Leica Microsystems, No. 09-975, DC NJ, 2011)
Final note: The court looked at more than just what Corbisiero was told during his termination meeting. It carefully reviewed all documents concerning the selection process. That’s why it is crucial to have documentation showing clear and consistent business reasons for a termination decision.