Words are easy to misconstrue. Depending on who’s listening, the same sentence could mean at least two different things. This is one of the things that keeps lawyers employed.
It’s also the reason it’s crucial to prepare accurate notes about any meeting in which managers are discussing whether to terminate. Make sure those notes are so clear that they can’t be open to multiple interpretations.
Otherwise, a jury might hear a simple question like “Can we get in legal hot water for firing someone on disability leave?” as “Let’s find a way to get rid of her.”
Recent case: Rosalyn Grace went on after a bout with asthma landed her in the hospital. When she was ready to return, she was informed that she had been terminated because her employer had outsourced her job to an IT firm. Grace sued.
She found out during discovery that there was a meeting to discuss her termination. At that meeting, the director of operations said that he understood they needed “a legitimate business reason” to fire Grace since she was “out on disability.” Otherwise, he was afraid they might get sued. Someone made a note in the file that said, “Can lawyers construct a way to make it doable?” That was enough for the court to order a jury trial. (Grace v. USCAR and Bartech, No. 06-2509, 6th Cir., 2008)
- How to Fire an Employee the Legal Way: 6 Termination Guidelines
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- When the writing is on the wall: Court finds employee justified in believing she was fired
- New York Human Rights Law
- Prepare to make clear-cut case before firing public employee working on contract