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Terminating Family Staff: A Step-By-Step Process

Dana Kavanagh, the wife of the former head of security for pop star Rihanna, is suing the singer for loss of earnings after Rihanna terminated Kavanagh's husband in 2013.

Three years ago, the former bodyguard sued Rihanna for defamation, alleging Rihanna made false statements about him in an email sent to him and his wife, Kavanagh. He dropped that suit in 2015. Blanaid Murphy "Rihanna hit by lawsuit as wife of her former bodyguard takes legal action," www.mirror.co.uk (Jun. 30, 2017).


Commentary and Checklist

Lawsuits cost family employers time, money, and loss of reputation. Family employers are most vulnerable to employee litigation after terminating a member of the staff.

Staff terminations performed carefully can help lower risk. A thorough termination should include documentation of your reasons for terminating the staff member, including evidence of his or her poor performance or wrongdoing.

Evidence of poor performance or wrongdoing includes warnings, reprimands, evaluations, or statements regarding wrongdoing and family complaints.

Evidence of your efforts to remedy poor performance are also helpful and should include notes of your meeting with the staff person about the issues in question; notes describing the performance failure; your proposed improvement plan; progression by the staff member regarding your plan; and any other documents regarding your efforts to change behavior. 

When planning the setting of a termination, do so in in a private setting, with someone with you to act as a witness and take notes. Turn off mobile devices. Make sure you are calm when you conduct the meeting. Never argue with the terminated staff member or say disrespectful or untrue things about a staff person during or after termination. If your jurisdiction requires the final paycheck be paid at termination, be sure to have it ready.

Consider these other aspects of the situation before you terminate a staff member:

  • Consult with your household or business manager or other supervisor who works with the staff member to confirm that termination is in your family's best interest and is legal.
  • Consult with your household or business manager or other supervisor who works with the staff member to confirm that termination is in your family's best interest and is legal.
  • Make sure your handbook states that at all times, your staff members are at will employees who can be terminated at any time, with or without notice, and for any reason, so long as the reason is not an illegal reason.
  • Make sure your handbook states that at all times, your staff members are at will employees who can be terminated at any time, with or without notice, and for any reason, so long as the reason is not an illegal reason.
  • Consider the staff member's status, which can heighten the risk of termination: is he or she on workers' compensation; did he or she just go on family and medical leave; or did the staff person report wrongdoing recently?
  • Consider the staff member's status, which can heighten the risk of termination: is he or she on workers' compensation; did he or she just go on family and medical leave; or did the staff person report wrongdoing recently?
  • Ask your legal counsel to review the reasons for the termination and discuss the potential risks involved if you do proceed.
  • Ask your legal counsel to review the reasons for the termination and discuss the potential risks involved if you do proceed.
  • If litigation is a concern, then consider a severance agreement, which could be substantially less costly than a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • If litigation is a concern, then consider a severance agreement, which could be substantially less costly than a wrongful termination lawsuit.
  • Always have legal counsel draft the severance agreement so that if the staff member agrees to it, it can be legally binding.
  • Always have legal counsel draft the severance agreement so that if the staff member agrees to it, it can be legally binding.
  • If a terminated staff member does sue, consider mediating the dispute
  • If a terminated staff member does sue, consider mediating the dispute as soon as possible to help offset costs and compensatory damages.
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