In an at-will employment state like California, you can, in theory, fire anyone at any time. However, state and federal legislation have particular exceptions to prohibit employers from firing someone for any reason. For instance, you cannot fire someone for refusing to do something illegal, or for a discriminatory reason (race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, and more). If you fire someone for the wrong reason, you can face a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Setting Clear Policies on Termination
Your employee handbook is a great place to identify your company policies on discipline and termination. Outline these policies in your handbook, have your employees acknowledge receipt of this handbook during your onboarding process, and then—most importantly—make sure you actually follow your policies consistently with all mddembers of your team.
Part of your disciplinary process should be to document issues, from dress code violations to tardiness issues to performance problems, including by documenting the steps you take to coach the employee and by saving copies of warnings you issue. Creating a clear paper trail of an employee’s problems and attempted corrections before terminating that employee helps you demonstrate, when necessary, that the reason for the firing was not a discriminatory reason.
You should also set clear expectations from the job description, your hiring interviews, and initial job training about your company’s values and the various issues that are important to your company.
Offer training where necessary to help employees do their jobs properly and efficiently and coaching to handle any issues that may pop up later.
An employee is an investment in time and resources and firing one can be costly for your company. While all businesses will eventually have some issue with an employee, it’s important to do what you can to avoid the issues you can avoid and to mitigate the issues you can’t.
Good Termination Practices
When you do find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to terminate an employee, you want to make sure your business has a clear process in place for the people handling the termination to follow. For instance, the first step in a well-run process will be making sure all documentation of the employee’s issues and of the final reason for firing is in order and has been reviewed internally.
The actual termination itself should take place in a way that isn’t going to embarrass the employee in front of their co-workers. Bring them into a private setting with two people representing the company—their manager and your Human Resources person, for example—and sit them down for the discussion. (While this process is never easy, having two people in the room representing the company generally keeps the conversation calm and prevents claims of inappropriate behavior in the future.)
If you have clearly communicated with this employee regarding their issues in the past and properly set your employees’ expectations regarding workplace policies and performance requirements, the termination shouldn’t be much of a surprise to the employee.
In a termination meeting, start with a calm conversation explaining that the employee is not a good fit for the company. While the employee may express frustration, if clear expectations were set from the beginning (by doing things like providing an employee handbook during onboarding), policies were followed, and coaching was offered, you won’t need to explain again why they’re being terminated. No matter how emotional the employee may get, it is important that you stay professional. If appropriate, you can also offer them a fair severance package in return for signing a legal release.
Our team of experienced business attorneys at Chase Law Group, P.C. can help you craft employee handbooks and company policies and practices for leave, harassment, and termination that are in line with all California and federal laws. Give us a call at (310) 545-7700 to schedule a free consultation. We want to help our clients set up the strongest business possible, so we work proactively to ensure compliance with changing regulations to help our clients avoid and limit serious problems.