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How can we fire a poor performer–who up until now has earned glowing reviews?

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in Firing,Human Resources

Q. We recently hired a new manager in an underperforming division. After getting to know her team, the manager wants to fire an employee for poor performance. But, the employee has only had glowing performance reviews under his previous manager. Can we go ahead with the termination?

A. Technically, yes. Minnesota is an at-will state, meaning an employer can terminate at any time for any lawful reason. So, even if the employee previously had great reviews, the employer could terminate today based on the new manager’s different view of the performance.  

That said, you should get more information before acting. Ask if the new manager communicated her expectations and has given the employee a chance to improve. If the employee does not know what the expectations are or the termination might seem unfair, litigation could be riskier.

Of course, some things justify an immediate termination. However, with garden-variety performance issues, it is wise to give documented warnings before firing someone. The new manager should be able to articulate and demonstrate how the employee is not performing to expectations. If the expectations were communicated and you can show the employee failed to meet them after a chance to improve, there is less risk of a legal claim.

You should also screen for other legal risks, such as discrimination, retaliation or wage-and-hour claims. Even if you have lots of documentation supporting a termination, you might still be sued.

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Megan L. Anderson is an attorney with Gray Plant Mooty’s Employment Law Practice Group in Minneapolis. Concentrating her practice in employment law counseling and litigation, she regularly advises employers and provides training on a variety of employment law issues. Contact her at megan.anderson@gpmlaw.com or (612) 632-3004.

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