While you can fire an at-will employee for any legal reason or no reason at all, your best bet is to conduct a thorough and fair investigation. It’s much easier to persuade a judge that a discrimination complaint is meritless if you can point to records showing exactly why you fired the worker.
Recent case: Tammy Valdes was a part-time criminal justice instructor at a college. Students complained to college officials that Valdes disrupted their exam periods by speaking loudly on her cell phone and using profanity.
Valdes was warned, and yet the complaints kept coming. An investigator then interviewed an entire class and got their written accounts. The administration fired Valdes and she sued, alleging discrimination.
But the administration showed it had conducted a thorough investigation, speeding dismissal of the lawsuit. Valdes couldn’t cast doubt on the investigator’s conclusions. (Valdes v. Miami-Dade College, No. 11-14977, 11th Cir., 2012)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
- It's essential to have clear hiring and promotion criteria
- Punish bosses who don't report harassment
- Beware cryptic notes in your HR files--they could be used against you in a later lawsuit
- 'Same-actor' defense won't always work; establish unbiased reasons for firings