Most employees in the United States work on an at-will basis. This means that their employer may fire them at any time, and they may quit at any time. Neither side is bound by contract. Nevertheless, many employers find themselves targeted by wrongful termination lawsuits. Here are some of the most common mistakes employers make that increase their exposure.
Promising too Much
You may be excited about the work environment and compensation package you provide, and you may be tempted to boast about your company’s ability to provide long-term career opportunities. However, the doctrine of at-will employment only applies if neither side makes any legally enforceable promises. If you imply to job applicants that they can expect to work for you for years, you may give them grounds for a wrongful termination suit if the relationship fails.
Not Understanding the Loopholes
In general, you may fire an at-will worker with no explanation at any time. However, you may not discharge an employee for any of the following reasons:
- Retaliation for filing a legal complaint
- Discrimination against a class protected by state or federal law
- As punishment for attempting to organize or participate in a union
- To deter other employees from filing for worker’s compensation benefits
Not Taking Internal Evaluations Seriously
Many companies treat their employee evaluation process as a formality. If you rate problem employees as excellent or satisfactory workers, it will be harder to show that they were terminated for a good reason. Documenting employee errors in a truthful manner is one of the best ways to lower your exposure to liability.
Inadequately Screening Job Applicants
Your chances of getting sued for wrongful termination go up with every employee you fire. By carefully investigating all job applicants, you can lower the risk of hiring an employee who is not a good fit for your business. Criminal background checks are increasingly efficient and affordable. You can also contact the applicant’s previous employers. Many employers are reluctant to give specifics about discharged employees because they believe they could be sued for defamation, so you may have to press for details. You can reassure them that they can only be sued for intentionally relaying false information; even good faith mistakes are protected.
Failing to Scrutinize Employment Contracts
Many business owners do not realize the importance of the precise terms of their standard employment contracts. They may not have even read the forms. However, the terms of a signed contract will trump anything you say in the interview. If you simply direct new employees to sign an outdated document pulled from the bottom of a dusty file cabinet, you may find yourself liable for breaking promises you never intended to make.
Protect Your Company from the Outset by Hiring an Experienced Attorney
If you are worried about exposing your company to wrongful termination lawsuits, hire an experienced employment attorney ahead of time. By doing so, you can make sure that your hiring and firing processes are best suited to protect your company from unwanted lawsuits.