Before you fire, know 3 limits on at-will employment — Business Management Daily: Free Reports on Human Resources, Employment Law, Office Management, Office Communication, Office Technology and Small Business Tax Business Management Daily

Before you fire, know 3 limits on at-will employment

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in Firing,Human Resources

People hired for an indefinite period are traditionally considered at-will employees. Unless a contract specifically said otherwise, you could fire them for any reason or no reason at all. However, courts have recognized three exceptions to the at-will doctrine.

Discrimination: Under federal law it is illegal to terminate workers because of their age, race, religion, sex, national origin or a disability that does not influence their job performance. Some states add other limitations. Example: In many states, you can’t fire due to a person’s marital status or sexual orientation.

Public policy: You cannot legally terminate an employee for reasons that violate public policy. That means you can’t fire one of your engineers for informing the EPA that your company has been dumping toxic waste in the river. By the same token, if a court orders you to garnish the wages of a worker who’s behind on child support, you can’t fire him merely to save yourself the hassle of additional paperwork.

‘Just cause’ promise: If you tell workers that they will be fired for cause only, or otherwise establish guidelines that spell out how and when terminations will be handled, you may be creating an implied employment contract.

The problem: If you don’t follow your disciplinary rules to the letter, you could find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit. In short, employment at-will still exists, but it has been so deeply eroded with exceptions that you’d be wise to follow a simple rule: Don’t fire a worker without a good reason that you can articulate clearly and document convincingly.

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