Employees and employers alike often do not fully understand at-will employment laws. This can lead to confusion and confrontations, both of which are best avoided by each side.
The biggest thing to know about at-will employment is that it means both sides can end the relationship at virtually any time. You can fire an employee or they can quit. Neither has any obligation to do any more than inform the other of the ending of that business relationship. The law generally presumes that you are employed at will unless you can prove otherwise, usually through written documents relating to your employment or oral statements your employer has made.
Do you have to tell employees why they’re being fired?
No. You certainly can, but you’re not obligated to do so. You also don’t have to have any specific reason yourself. You may simply think they’re not a good fit. You don’t have to have a “valid” reason in their eyes.
Do you have to warn them before you fire them?
No. They may argue that it’s unfair to fire them because they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. They’re free to feel this way, but you have not broken the law by not giving them a warning.
Are there any exceptions to these rules?
Certainly. If your employee policies state that employees must be given a reason or a warning, then you have to honor that. If the employee has a contract, you have to honor the terms of the contract. You also cannot fire an employee for an illegal reason, such as discriminating against workers of a specific race. You also cannot fire an employee for exercising a variety of legal rights, including the right to take family and medical leave, to take leave to serve in the military, or to take time off work to vote or serve on a jury.
What if a dispute happens?
If a dispute still happens and an employee threatens litigation, then you must know what legal options you have to address it. If you are the owner of a business and have recently been contacted by a former employee for a wrongful termination claim, please contact the attorneys at Hart Kienle Pentecost today.