Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How not to fire an employee

Today, I’m going to tell you a little story. It’s about a stay-at-home mom who works part-time from home. She’s worked for the same company for over a year, and performed well. Every three months, the employer would renew her tenure for another three-month period. Recently, the mom asked for and received time some time off to deal with a medical issue of one of her children. While she was out on leave, she received an email from her manager telling her that her position was being eliminated and that her services would no longer be needed.

The legal issues in this vignette are relatively easy to spot: ADA (based on associational disability), FMLA (if she worked enough hours for the company), and GINA (depending on the nature of her child’s medical condition and whether her employer is in possession of genetic information).

This story, though, raises a larger issue. All legal issues aside, is this employee more likely or less to sue following her termination? According to the Settle It Now Negotiation Blog, there are four main reasons why an employee might file a lawsuit:

  1. Feelings of unfair, insensitive treatment at the time of termination.
  2. Lack of notice of the termination.
  3. Certain groups – women and minorities - are especially likely to sue.
  4. Perception of poor on-the-job treatment.

Our story violates at least the first three of these rules.

This employer, however, made one key mistake that helps fan the flames of bad feelings and could lead to a lawsuit – communicating the termination by email. Email is cold and informal, and should never be used to fire an employee.

The moral of this story – in preventing lawsuits by terminated employees, how the employee is fired is as important, if not more important, that why the employee was fired.

Presented by Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

For more information, contact Jon Hyman, a partner in our Labor & Employment group, at (216) 736-7226 or