405.627.6326 matt@whyhr.guru

At-will employment is often misunderstood by business owners. While true that at-will employment means either party can end the employment agreement at any time, it doesn’t remove the risk of a former employee suing over wrongful termination. Even in at-will states, employees are protected from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace.

Because those liabilities exist, businesses need to protect themselves by being aware of the risks, having the right policies in place, and documenting performance issues well before terminating an employee.

All too often, managers overlook problems with an employee until they reach a breaking point where they decide to take aggressive action and terminate the employee. While keeping silent as problems develop can be rooted in a desire to be a nice boss, it fails to give an employee the opportunity to improve and blindsides them when they are fired. On top of that, it leaves the employee an open door to claim wrongful termination and sue the company.

Instead, managers need to have difficult conversations with employees along the way and properly document them. Conversations leave room for improvement, including the opportunity to discuss goals and create a performance improvement plan. It lets employees know where they need to improve and gives them a chance to fix it, while also documenting the performance concerns that may ultimately lead to terminating the employment agreement.

When documenting these conversations, don’t settle for taking your own notes and leaving them in a notebook. For liability protection, leave a paper trail between you and the employee. Send follow-up emails with notes of what was discussed and when. If the employee is eventually terminated and tries to sue, you will have official documentation of past discussions, as well as proof of why the employee was terminated.

Having these conversations is difficult. No one likes to be the one to tell an employee something is wrong, and many managers don’t know how to do it well because they’ve never been properly trained. That’s why we offer training on Facing Your Fears About Employee Discipline, as well as multiple other training topics for managers and supervisors.

Lack of training isn’t a good defense if your company faces a wrongful termination lawsuit and being an at-will employment state doesn’t negate liability either. Make sure your team understands what at-will employment really means and how to effectively deal with employee issues before it becomes a liability for your company.

If you need help empowering your managers to have difficult conversations, reach out to the WhyHR team to discuss training opportunities. We have multiple training topics available and can customize them to fit your team’s specific needs.

Get the latest news! 

Get the latest news! 


Sign up below to receive email updates from Why HR, including details on upcoming events in our Let’s Talk series.

You have Successfully Subscribed!