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3 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Terminating an Employee

 Posted on January 21, 2021 in Employment Law


For many business owners, terminating an employee is something they hope they will not have to do. Unfortunately, letting employees go is just as much a part of being a business owner as hiring employees is. When an employer fires an employee, the employer must be careful to avoid creating an opportunity for the employee to sue.

Illinois is an “at-will employment” state, which means that a workers’ employment can be terminated for nearly any reason, including no reason at all. However, there are exceptions. For example, it is illegal to fire an employee on the basis of the employee’s age, race, national origin, and other characteristics protected by law. This creates a vast gray area when it comes to letting an employee go, and employers must make certain that the termination was handled in compliance with the law. There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of being sued, but avoiding these common mistakes can help business owners avoid litigation.

Mistake #1: Sloppy Recordkeeping

Sometimes, employers become overwhelmed with the demands of running a business, and they allow some duties to slip. One of these often-overlooked responsibilities is recordkeeping. For example, employers have the responsibility to track employee hours worked. When keeping track of the hours worked by employees is based on the “honor system” or is inadequately managed, employees can claim that they were not paid for the actual hours they worked.

Problems can also arise when a business fails to sufficiently document employee performance issues or instances of misconduct. Complete and accurate records of performance concerns and misbehavior could become extremely useful if an employee ever claims to have been terminated illegally.

Mistake #2: Divulging Sensitive Information

It is impossible to completely eliminate gossip in any group of people, including a team of employees. However, inappropriate discussions regarding an employee’s termination can become evidence in a discrimination lawsuit. Management and human resources should be cautious not to discuss the termination with employees who do not have a legitimate need to know.  Furthermore, business owners should be on the lookout for emails that reference terminated employees. These emails can be used as evidence in litigation. It is best to always write emails with the understanding that others may see them and to be as professional as possible.

Mistake #3: Inadequate Investigation

Serious problems can arise when an employer receives a complaint of discrimination or harassment and does not investigate it thoroughly. Employers should take all claims of misconduct seriously and take steps to determine the validity of the claim. A thorough investigation should include interviewing witnesses and preserving any evidence of the discrimination or harassment. One of the biggest mistakes an employer can make is not having clear, written anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures.

Wheaton Business Attorneys Helping Business Owners

The dedicated DuPage County business law attorneys at Stock, Carlson & Duff LLC have the experience and skill necessary to make sure your business operates within the boundaries of the law. If you have questions about terminating an employee, we can help you find the answers. Call 630-665-2500 for a confidential consultation today.



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