As an employer, you know that you have the right to terminate workers and replace them, but you also know that this may lead to litigation and accusations of discrimination, illegal termination and things of this nature. You want to avoid such an experience. How can you make things go smoothly?
One option to consider is drafting an employee handbook that lays out how the firing process is supposed to go. You are then obligated to follow these procedures, but the positive side is that an employee who claims they were fired illegally can easily be countered by pointing out that they knew the system when they took the job and that the system was followed properly.
A three-strikes rule
For instance, some handbooks indicate that employees get a three-strikes rule for most infractions. The first time, the worker just gets a warning. The second time, they’re told that it’s their last warning. If they break the workplace rules a third time — failing to show up to work on schedule, for instance, or failing to properly file a report — then you can terminate them without issue.
The benefit of a rule like this is that you can put the first two warnings in writing. If you then fire the employee, it’s easy to bring out that documentation, show that they made a habit of ignoring or breaking the rules, and prove that you had a justified reason to fire them. They may claim that it’s on the basis of gender, age or another protected class, but your record of events shows that that is not true.
Your legal options
Unfortunately, even with these rules in place, some employees will claim they were illegally fired. If so, you must understand all of your legal options. The best way to protect yourself is to understand exactly where you stand under the law.