Steps To Take When Terminating A Staff Member

A man who worked for a car manufacturer in California sued his former employer for harassment, discrimination, and constructive discharge.

He alleges he had successful employment, working in a sales position at one of manufacturer's California showrooms. Then, he started training employees at other locations. Within two years, he became the assistant store manager.

However, the plaintiff alleges he sought promotion four times over the next two years but was not promoted after he appeared as an actor in an advertisement for a different car manufacturer. His employer then asked him to resign or be terminated because of the conflict of interest. The employee alleges he had requested and received approval from his supervisor to do the acting job.

The plaintiff also alleges he was subjected to race-based harassment, and that his race was the reason he did not receive a promotion and was later asked to leave. He seeks compensatory and punitive damages. "Black Ex-Assistant Manager at UTC Tesla Sues Company, Alleging Discrimination" timesofsandiego.com (Jan. 22, 2022).

Commentary and Checklist

Employers can terminate an at-will employee with or without notice and for any reason, so long as that reason is not illegal. It is not illegal to expect staff members not to work on behalf of competitors, especially in a public manner.

When a family employer has reason to terminate an at-will member of staff, it is important to consider how the termination is processed. Often, if a staff member does not understand the reason or feels disrespected in the process, they will then turn to legal counsel to file a lawsuit so they can feel “heard”.

What are some considerations for the termination process?

  • Plan the termination - the location, who will perform it, and who will witness it.
  • Remain calm and be respectful.
  • Have the final paycheck ready. Some states require this at the time of termination. Include pay for the entire day to avoid a wage and hour claim argument later as to what time the staff member actually left the premises.
  • Have any state required forms ready, and any required COBRA, unemployment, or other notifications.
  • Have a list of items ready that the staff member should turn in.
  • Plan what you are going to say. Consider beginning with a purpose statement like: "I've made a business decision, and this meeting is to inform you of it. I have ended our employment relationship. Here is why..." This is not a time for small talk or to sound like you are still in the midst of deciding.
  • When the staff member reacts, listen to them. Then, paraphrase or repeat back to them what you heard.
  • Thank the staff member for their service.
  • Walk with now former staff member so they can collect any personal items. Have a box ready in case they need it.
  • Take them to the exit and wish them well.
  • Retain all documentation related to the staff member's employment.
  • When contacted by your state's unemployment agency, give them the same reason for termination that you communicated to your staff member.
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