Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

What is the best way to fire an employee to avoid a lawsuit?

Firing an employee is never easy, but it is something that nearly all employers must deal with at one time or another. The last thing an employer wants is to be faced with the possibility of a lawsuit for violation of Michigan or federal law following an already-difficult termination. Things to keep in mind include the terms of the employment contract, if applicable, the reasons for termination and documentation of the decision-making process.

Michigan is an at-will employment state. In the absence of an employment contract, an employee may be fired for any reason other than those prohibited by law. It is always unlawful to make hiring, firing, promotion or other decisions based on race, age, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Additionally, workers may not be fired for whistle-blowing or taking time for medical leave or to perform military service. If the employee is being terminated for dishonesty, fraud, assault, theft or illegal activity, the employer should have supporting evidence. Inadequate job performance or failure to communicate may also be legitimate reasons to fire an employee, but there should be supporting evidence.

It is best, if possible, to create circumstances wherein the employee is not taken completely by surprise. Having meetings and performance reviews to attempt to rectify any problems without termination may be advisable. If firing is necessary, the employer should gather documentation beforehand and be prepared to explain the decision to the employee. Those who believe they were terminated unfairly or treated disrespectfully are more likely to seek legal recourse, even if no laws have been violated.

Each employer's situation is unique, and thus consultation with an experienced attorney is advisable. The attorney can assist with the development of company procedures regarding termination as well as help an employer comply with the legal requirements of a particular situation.

Source: Entrepreneur, "4 Secrets to Firing Your First Employee", Heather R. Huhman, October 14, 2014

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