Hiring and terminating employees

May 18, 2017

A group of employees are like a family in many small or closely held businesses. There employers and employees work best when people trust one another. While some say, trust is earned and easily broken, others take the stance that what can be trusted best is a culture where people do not be in a position to wholly trust one another through the use of policies and agreements. Even when the employment relationship is well-documented and protected, life happens and terminations can come about with little or no notice. It is important to be prepared for terminations that take a turn in a different direction from that for which you were prepared. It is a good policy to be prepared for the worst-case situation and hope that does not materialize.

Employee policies and contracts reduce uncertainty and reliance on interpersonal trust.

In companies of all sizes there are often standard employment policies, agreements among employers and employees, as well as the employee handbook often referenced in the employment agreement and policy. When employers create and update employee policies and handbooks they are concerned with reducing exposure to legal and business liability should an employment situation devolve into a termination.

Social media is a concern for employers who fear an angry employee might access a company-owned social media account, or the employees own, to make damaging and disparaging comments, much less divulge trade secrets and other sensitive business information. The sections of agreements and policies controlling rights, duties and electronic communication should be as specific as possible to cover many foreseeable situations. The more you make expectations clear to employees, the greater your chances are that a dispute may be settled in your favor. Likewise, the penalties for employees breaching duties stated in contracts and policies should be clear and include all possible outcomes.

When creating employment policies and agreements it is important to follow applicable laws.

There are state and federal employment laws that must be followed. An employment agreement or policy that conflicts with applicable controlling laws or those policies and agreements could be unenforceable. It is important to work with an experienced commercial business attorney who can advise and draft correct language for policies and agreements.

Employment law can include a variety of topics including discrimination, employee compensation, child labor and wage laws, to name a few of the common legal areas. The laws governing some employment situations may not apply to others. For example, the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal statute, requires meal breaks for employees, but some types of employment situations are exempt from the Act. For this and many other reasons, it is important to use an experienced business attorney when developing policies and agreements.

Being prepared for the worst-case scenario is important.

Just like a fire drill, employers should consider termination drills. In most cases terminated employees are escorted off the property without incident. In other cases, angry employees can make comments to co-workers on the way out that could lead to legal problems or worse, actual violent outbursts. It is smart to require security to remain with the terminated employee, at all times, from the moment the termination is communicated.

An information technology officer may be selected within the organization, or a third-party vendor could also serve in the role of turning off an employee’s access to electronic communications and to access to employee property including office locations. It may be quite easy to quickly terminate access to emails, technology networks and the security card to enter the premises and spaces therein. The damage an angry employee could do if they have access to employer property after a termination could be significant.

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