By Dalton B. Floyd, Jr. & Collin R. Jewell
From an employer’s perspective, the ability to control and run a business is crucial, and this includes the right to fire or discharge employees of the company. If an employee has an “at-will” employment status, in most states, the employer may discharge the employee at any time for any cause or no cause. Due to the harshness of this doctrine over the past ten to fifteen years, the courts have carved out several exceptions to the “at-will” status.
One of the exceptions is the “implied contract” clause whereas an employee reasonably relies on the employer’s conduct coupled with oral and/or written promises which a court construes as protecting the employee from being discharged. The “public policy” exception is used when the employer attempts to fire an employee for something that he or she had a legal right to do – such as file a claim for worker’s compensation – or refuse to do something he or she considered to be illegal.
In many instances, office manuals and policy handbooks are drafted to prevent inconsistent treatment of employees and bolster morale. Sometimes, however, a discharged employee claims the office manual was an “implied contract” and the manual becomes the focus of a breach-of-contract lawsuit.
Another minefield for employers in discharge situations is the recent explosion of discrimination claims which stem from the new laws that have expanded the rights of employees, and the increased knowledge and awareness of the new laws by the public. The laws generally prohibit employment discrimination in the terms and conditions of employment. Some of the laws include:
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act
- The Civil Rights Act
- The Equal Pay Act
- and The Americans With Disabilities Act.
Today, for employers, hiring and firing is a dangerous and complex territory. A top priority of any business should be to minimize the risk of litigation in connection with the hiring and firing of its employees. Understanding the basis of the claims that can be made in these situations is the first step in minimizing the risk which will help business owners successfully navigate the employment minefield.
At The Floyd Law Firm PC, our firm is committed to helping large and small business owners. Our experienced business and corporate legal counsel apply practical solutions to a wide variety of business and employment concerns.