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How to Fire an At-Will Employee without Risking a Lawsuit

Firing someone can be tricky business. For starters, no one wants to be the bearer of bad news — even if the person you need to let go has not produced much for the company in years. Then again, many situations require businesses to fire employees for reasons that have little or nothing to do with the employees themselves. As a business owner or manager, you may find yourself forced to choose between the lesser of several evils. So what can be done to make the process, if not easier or less painful, at least less likely to result in a potentially expensive, time-consuming, wrongful termination lawsuit?

Remember, although at-will employees may be fired at any time for any legal reason, this does not stop at-will employees who fall into any protected group — people with disabilities, women, employees of color, people who need to utilize the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — from filing wrongful termination suits. So document your reasons. If you have to let someone go after a week out on FMLA, make sure you have records of the misconduct or lack of productivity that led to your decision.

You should also have very clear rules about workplace discrimination and harassment, and make sure you, your management, and your employees follow them.

While nothing will absolutely protect you and your company from a wrongful termination lawsuit, if you do have to fire someone, taking these easy steps will make a lawsuit less likely in the first place — and less costly if one does occur.

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