Firing employees is sometimes the hardest part of owning and operating a business. Understanding the relationship between an employer and the employee, and when the employer can legally end that relationship, can be extremely complex. Especially today, in a culture where many people instantly resort to threatening lawsuits when they feel wronged, threats of wrongful termination lawsuits can be a huge hassle for small and medium businesses alike.
Whether a former employee is threatening a wrongful termination lawsuit or has already filed the case, talk to an attorney. Many employers who attempt to handle wrongful termination claims on their own do not fully understand their nor the employee’s rights. This can often lead to unnecessary settlements or additional petty or wrongful acts. Baltimore employment lawyers at The Law Practice of Ken C. Gauvey can take your case and help you keep wrongful termination claims from letting your business suffer.
Baltimore Wrongful Termination Law
Understanding when you can legally fire an employee is crucial. Sometimes the type of employee you are dealing with makes all the difference regarding what the law allows you to do. Many things are always wrong and can put your business in trouble, such as firing an employee for refusing sexual advances or refusing to break the law upon your request. Other reasons for termination are completely valid for some types of employees.
Most employees in Maryland are “at-will” employees. At-will employees have no contract that controls their employer-employee relationship. This allows a lot of freedom, for both employee and employer. Because there is no contract, at-will employees are free to quit whenever they want. On the other side, employers can fire at-will employees for any legal reason – or for no reason.
If you do have a contract with an employee, you are required to follow that contract. This means that if the contract requires some process or warnings before firing an employee, you are held to those standards. Additionally, if the contract only allows firing “for-cause” or lists particular reasons, you may be held to that contract. Even some employee handbooks may count as a contract, even without an explicit contract. However, any firing that follows the contract should be upheld, with no grounds for a wrongful termination dispute.
There are reasons for firing someone that might be illegal, regardless of whether they are at-will or contract employees. Most of these are governed by federal laws, such as:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”)
- Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Equal Pay Act
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act
- Fair Labor Standards Act
- Family Medical Leave Act
These and many other federal and state laws make it illegal to discriminate on certain grounds. It also makes it illegal to fire employees for requesting things they are entitled to, like equal pay or maternity leave.
Employment Discrimination and its Defenses
Many claims of wrongful termination, whether they are justified or not, are often based on discrimination claims. Many former employees who threaten or actually file wrongful termination lawsuits claim to be fired for discriminatory reasons. In order to win those cases, the former employee needs proof of discrimination.
Employment discrimination comes in many forms. Because of the federal laws listed above, it is illegal to fire someone based on their actual (or perceived):
- National origin,
- Religion, or
There are other grounds for discrimination that are barred under federal law. In addition, Maryland makes it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
Many claims of discrimination are frivolous, and used by disgruntled former employees to get revenge. There are many, justified reasons to fire employees, such as:
- A track record of insubordination,
- Poor work product,
- Poor work ethic,
- Poor communication,
- Loss or mishandling of company funds,
- Other concerns with work performance.
If the termination was justified by one of these or another reason, then it was clearly not discriminatory.
In cases where the termination was based on a discriminatory reason, there may be circumstances that still justify the firing. For instance, if an employee was fired because of their age or disability, it may be because they can no longer physically perform job-related tasks. While there may be options to re-assign the employee, if their age or disability creates unnecessary risks or expense to reassign them, their termination might be legal. Always talk to an attorney if you are considering firing someone because of a discriminatory reason. While there are often exceptions that permit the firing, there may be other options to offer a retirement package or otherwise come to an agreement.
Baltimore Employer Defense Attorney
If your business is facing claims of wrongful termination, talk to an attorney. The Law Practice of Ken C. Gauvey represents small and medium businesses in the Baltimore, Maryland area. Ken fights to protect his clients’ businesses and their day-to-day operations. If you are considering terminating a difficult employee, or a former employee has threatened or filed wrongful termination claims, talk to an attorney. Call 433-692-7685 today for a complimentary consultation on your case.