Avoiding Lawsuits brought by Former Employees

Lawsuits brought by employees, including former employees, often arise from a lack of adequate understanding of legal issues surrounding documentation and communication of employment issues.

One of many reasons for lawsuits is that these employees are not provided with a good understanding of why they were let go. The result? Employees leave feeling as though they were terminated for an illegal or unlawful reason.

Employers who take the time to write termination or exit letters can help the process.

The purposes of a termination or exit letter are as follows:

  • Provides written explanation of the reason for the termination
  • Uses actual facts and circumstances for the termination (missed work, did not report-in; repeated tardiness; reduction in force; position elimination; behavior)
  • Offers specific details for the employee
  • References employee manual or policy violated by employee action(s)
  • References any impact on co-workers and productivity

A good Washington D.C. business lawyer will suggest you provide this letter to the employee so he or she has an opportunity to comment or dispute its contents. The employee should then sign the letter or indicate in writing that he or she refuses to sign. The purpose of documenting this communication is to prepare for any lawsuit that may arise. The communications back-and-forth with the employee have provided you with a defense against any such lawsuit.

An attorney hired to represent the employee will have a difficult time finding merit in a suit.

Employers should be most concerned about making personnel decisions which are appropriate for the business needs of their organization. At the same time, employers must be aware of the potential for lawsuits by employees who have been discharged.

Through a determined effort to create, distribute and enforce procedures, however, and utilization of just this one tool described above, claims and successful lawsuits can be greatly reduced. An employer can benefit greatly by timely legal advice before problems arise. Guidance from a Washington D.C. business lawyer can help an employer establish a framework in which it is very unlikely that a terminated employee will succeed in a lawsuit. While all claims cannot be avoided, an employer can position itself to decrease its vulnerability to litigation, and to increase its chance of success if a claim is filed.

Problem Employees and the Employment Handbook

The only constant in life is change.  In employment, problems require change.

Problem employees can will ruin a business.

Employment issues must be dealt with using clear and concise policies, procedures and guidelines.  There is no better time than today to evaluate your business employment manual/handbook to determine whether your employees are provided with a “road map” of their work environment and your expectations of their time at work.

Employment policies and guidelines provide business owners’ with support for the employment actions they may take.
Employment lawyers create employee manuals / handbooks that are specific to your individual practice needs.   There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Your manual may cover as many or as few issues as you choose, but should always include the following key provisions:

Equal opportunity statement – This states that race, creed, color, religi0n, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age or covered veteran status will not affect employment decisions in any way.

Definition of the work schedule – This indicates that all employees are to be at their assigned work areas performing their assigned tasks at a certain time and in a certain manner.

Compensation & Benefits – This will classify an employee as exempt or non-exempt; details when the employee can expect to be paid, how wage increases are handled and whether they are eligible for overtime; and what type of benefits your business provides (health, dental, vision, 401k, vacation, etc.).

Codes of Conduct – This section clarifies expectations regarding employee dress, use of company equipment, punctuality, use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs, as well as policies regarding personal phone calls, Internet usage, and personal visits.

Performance review policy – This section explains exactly how and when employee performance is evaluated, including performance review criteria.  It may also spell out the policy on progressive discipline and unsatisfactory performance, and it may list those infractions that could result in termination of employment.

Time off policies or “Leave” policies – This section explains policies on vacation, parental/maternity leave, illness, military, funeral, personal, jury duty, holidays, personal days, etc.

Documentation is critical and preparation is key.  Unfortunately, most businesses wait until employee behaviors are so problematic that they becoming damaging before a robust employment manual is created.  Proactively assessing your business employment practices will save time, headache and expense.