Wrongful termination is a serious accusation for a company to experience; however, there are various misconceptions regarding what is considered wrongful termination and what isn’t. Some employees may believe that if the employer lets them go for reasons that “aren’t fair,” then they were wrongfully terminated. Unless they have an employment agreement in place that specifies the terms of employment, an “at will” employment relationship means that an employer can fire someone for having any reason or no reason at all—as long as the reason is not unlawful.
No matter how serious the claim seems, an employer and their legal counsel must take several steps to protect their best interests. Some defense strategies can protect an employer against such lawsuits and minimize the likelihood of a trial.
The following are common strategies for employers to consider when facing wrongful termination accusations:
- Perform a thorough investigation – The most important initiative an employer can take is maintaining proper documentation for all employment-related decisions, such a performance reviews, and disciplinary actions. Juries often believe (albeit unfairly) that if it isn’t documented by the employer, then it didn’t occur. Having documentation which demonstrates that you were reasonable in terminating the employee will be a strong piece of evidence. Additionally, seek evidence from interviews with those who decided to terminate the employee as well as those whose opinions contributed to the employment termination or action. Please advise your supervisors and managers that their interviews with you are protected and they are prohibited from discussing the contents or subject of the interview with anyone else.
- Assess the plaintiff’s claims – Once you and your lawyer conduct your investigation, evaluate the plaintiff’s claims, potential defenses, and the relative merits of each side’s position. Analyze whether or not the plaintiff’s claims will hold up to any motions for summary judgment, demurrers, or other defense efforts to dispose of claims before reaching trial. Assess the chances for the defense if the case ends up going to trial and, should the plaintiff succeed, the possible size of the plaintiff’s recovery.
- Determine the proper course of action – After you and your attorney review the plaintiff’s claims, the applicable legal standards, and your actions, you must develop an effective defense strategy to protect the company’s rights and best interests. It is wise to evaluate how a jury consisting of laypersons would apply these standards. Remember, the jury would be comprised of ordinary citizens, who are not experts in the employer’s business. Furthermore, determine the litigation costs and whether or not a settlement is the best thing to do. When you respond to the plaintiff’s demand letter, the nature of the response depends on the conclusions drawn from the investigation.
Taking these three steps can put in the best position to mount a strong defense. Our Charleston business litigation attorneys at Pierce | Sloan have the experience and resources to protect your company’s reputation against allegations of wrongful termination.
For more information, contact us and request a free consultation immediately.