Wrongful termination suits increasing; businesses should be wary

In addition to marketing, gaining customers, increasing sales and making a profit, a New Jersey business owner must be able to manage his or her employees effectively. While this may at times require letting an employee go, an owner should take the necessary steps to avoid a costly suit for wrongful termination when doing so.

At will employment does not prevent a company from being sued. Although an employer or employee can end employment for any reason, wrongful termination lawsuits have been increasing at a rapid pace.

There are several ways that companies can prevent wrongful termination lawsuits from occurring. One way is to use progressive discipline. This means tackling poor performers early on and setting expectations as well as disciplinary methods. This is more effective than firing an employee outright with no warnings or steps in place. Along the same line, other employees and supervisors should be aware of the policies so that it doesn't appear as though one employee is being singled out.

Performance reviews should be done regularly. At these reviews, any performance issues should be brought into the open and discussed so that employees have a chance to make changes. Employees who have little knowledge of the quality of their work and then suddenly get terminated are more likely to sue in response.

Many managers are afraid to fire an employee, so they do what they can to make the work environment unbearable so that the employee will just quit. This is called constructive discharge but may backfire. It will not necessarily protect an employer from a wrongful termination claim, but it can lead to charges that an employee got singled out for harsh treatment.

Business owners should be mindful when firing employees. This decision can have legal consequences, especially if the person was fired for illegal reasons. Firing someone in order to retaliate against him or her for engaging in legally protected activity may lead to a lawsuit. Firing someone without taking appropriate procedural steps may also lead the former employee to accuse his or her employer of discrimination.

Source: Business Management, " Wrongful termination: 6 steps to keep firings from burning you," Dec. 27, 2012

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