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Labor law: Termination of employment relationship

Firing an employee is never a pleasant task. Certain legal obligations and restrictions come into play when a company terminates, terminates, or otherwise terminates the employer-employee relationship. For example, if you enter into an employment contract with an employee, your rights and obligations with respect to your employment will be determined by the terms of the contract. This means that if you terminate employment before the agreed deadline, you could face a breach of contract lawsuit. Of course, the contract may foresee specific cases in which the contract can be terminated.

Aspects to consider before a termination of employment

There are several laws that come into play when it comes to ending employment. Understanding the COBRA insurance rights of an outgoing employee, when it is illegal to fire an employee, how to write a final pay check, and other employment termination issues can help you avoid legal and regulatory exposure. This section on Termination of Employment provides articles on legal firsts, tips, and resources for terminating the employer-employee relationship.

Improper termination

Although most employers implement an “at-will” employment policy, firing an employee for the wrong reason could negatively affect an employer. Although at-will employment means that an employer can fire an employee at any time and for any reason, the reason for termination cannot be retaliatory, discriminatory, or for any other unlawful reason. Federal and state wrongful termination laws address various reasons that cannot be the basis for terminating an employee, whether he or she is on a whim or working under an employment contract.

The most common wrongful termination laws are those that involve discrimination or retaliation. Under federal law, it is illegal to fire an employee because of gender, race, disability, national origin, religion, or age (if the person is 40 years or older). An employer is also not allowed to fire an employee because she is pregnant or has a medical condition related to pregnancy or the birth of a child. Some states have expanded their “protected classes” to include more characteristics, such as sexual orientation.

Retaliation is another illegal reason to terminate a person’s employment, and could result in a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Basically, retaliation occurs when an employer fires an employee because he or she asserted his or her rights under state or federal anti-discrimination laws. For example, if an employee is fired for complaining that she is not being paid the same amount for the same position as her male counterpart, she can file a claim for wrongful termination based on retaliation. It is also illegal to fire a person in retaliation for filing a complaint regarding an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violation.

Hiring an employment law attorney

As a small business owner, you most likely need to lay off employees from time to time. Whether you need to hire or fire an employee, it is important that you comply with applicable employment laws. To ensure that your employee termination policies and practices comply with federal and state laws, you should consult with an employment law attorney in your area.