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‘You’ll always have a job here’: How to respond?

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Q. When we were disciplining an employee, the president of our small company told him that he “will always have a job here.” He’s an at-will employee. Are we now obligated to keep him on if he improves? — C.P., Minnesota

A. You do risk potential litigation if you fire the employee after he improves his performance. Hopefully, you have an employee handbook that makes it clear that employees are at-will, and there is nothing in writing to the employee that contradicts this.

When opportunities arise, prepare documentation that clarifies the company’s position. For example, if there will be follow-up performance evaluations, include statements making it clear that nothing about the fact that he is no longer under disciplinary review changes that his employment is on an at-will basis.

I suggest you contact counsel, who can sit down with the company president and explain why promising a permanent job is a bad idea in general, even for excellent employees.

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