Q. About six months ago, we hired a new employee for our accounting department. Although he successfully completed his probationary period and has no formal disciplinary actions issued against him, he simply has an unpleasant personality and does not mesh well with the other employees in the department. Can we simply terminate him? After all, Ohio is an “at will” state.
A. It is true that Ohio is an at-will employment state, meaning that employees may quit and employers may terminate them at will, for any reason or for no reason at all, as long as the reason is not illegal.
Nevertheless, terminating an employee with no documented reason is both an unsound employment practice and very risky.
Any employee who wishes to file a charge of discrimination need only set forth that he or she falls within a protected class and suffered an adverse employment action.
Because protected classes include race, age (40 or older), gender, religion, veteran status, national origin and disability, nearly everybody falls within a protected class. (In fact, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Ohio, has even ruled that sexual stereotyping violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.) Therefore, it becomes the employer’s obligation to establish a legitimate business reason for the termination. Absent a well-articulated, documented reason, it is very difficult for the employer to legitimize the firing.
The better approach would be to identify those specific characteristics that affect the employee’s ability to interact well with co-workers and counsel him to help him improve. If he does not, discipline him (remember, uniformly apply your disciplinary policy) in accordance with your policies.
This will give the employee an opportunity to improve his performance and become a productive member of your team. It will also create some necessary documentation to establish the legitimate business reason for the termination, should he fail to improve.
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