Perhaps one of the most difficult and stressful parts of your job as a small business owner occurs when things aren’t working out with an employee, and you must take steps to fire him or her. Losing a job can be an emotional event, and it is not uncommon for terminated employees to lash out at their bosses when they are let go.
You may be facing this situation now if you have recently fired an employee who is now threatening to sue you for wrongful termination. This kind of threat may strike fear into you. In addition to being a drain of your business’s time, money and resources, a wrongful termination lawsuit could damage the reputation of your business. However, quite often, terminated employees do not fully understand what wrongful termination means.
Most everyone who loses a job feels that it is unfair. Fired employees may think it is unfair that they must now look for new jobs, that their employers expected too much of them or that there were no good reasons for their bosses to let them go. Any of these may be true, but California is an at-will state, which means you do not have to have a good reason to fire anyone. While it may seem unfair, a termination is only wrongful if it is illegal, including any of the following factors:
- Your employee had a contract in which you stipulated specific terms for firing, and you violated that contract.
- You fired an employee because he or she expressed political opinions that differ from yours.
- You fired someone specifically because he or she was a member of a protected class, such as race, religion, marital status, disability, sexual orientation or others.
- The employee you terminated was a whistleblower, meaning that he or she recently exposed some illegal or unethical activity in your business.
Even if none of these is true in your case, your former employee may believe that you will be willing to settle a lawsuit because you do not want the hassle and damage to your reputation that a lawsuit might bring. However, if your actions in terminating the employee did not break the law, you should not feel pressured into settling the case. In fact, with the assistance of a skilled attorney, you may learn more appropriate options for protecting your business and fighting a frivolous wrongful termination lawsuit.