Use Caution When Firing an Employee

Unfortunately, if you own your own business, it is most likely inevitable that the time will come when you are faced with firing an employee. Deciding to terminate the employment relationship can be a difficult one, but also critical in helping your company be as successful as possible. When going through the process of firing an employee, there are several important considerations to be aware of.

Restrictions on Firing Employee

Under most private-sector employment relationships, the employment is considered at-will. This means that the employment relationship can end without any justification and at the will of either party. As a result, the employment relationship can end for any or no reason. For example, an employer could fire an employee because that employee stole something from the business. But, an employer could also fire an employee simply because he or she desires to end the relationship. However, if the employee agreed to an employment contract, that contract may have eliminated the at-will nature of the employment relationship.  

Additionally, it is unlawful for an employer to fire an employee:

  • Who serves on or testifies before a wage board;
  • Refuses to submit to a polygraph test;
  • For fulfilling a jury duty obligation;
  • For union activity;
  • For retaliation because the employee filed a wage complaint;
  • For reporting wrongdoing by the employer;
  • In a manner that violates the protections for veterans and reservists; or
  • Who has had wages withheld to fulfill a child support obligation.

Further, it is illegal to fire an employee for a discriminatory reason, such as because of the employee’s:

  • Race;
  • Ethnic background;
  • Religion;
  • Age;
  • Sex; or
  • Disability.

If an employer is found to have fired an employee for a discriminatory reason, the employer may be forced to pay back pay and damages to the employee. Further, in some cases, the employee can win reinstatement to the position he or she was fired from.

Pennsylvania

In addition to the above, under Pennsylvania law, it is considered a wrongful discharge if the firing violates public policy. The Pennsylvania courts have held that an employer cannot require an employee to commit a crime, cannot prevent an employee from obeying the law, and cannot fire an employee when the law specifically forbids the firing. For example, it is has been held that public policy was violated when an employee was fired for refusing to serve alcohol to a customer who was already intoxicated. In order for a wrongful discharge claim to be successful, the employee must prove that the firing violated a clear public policy.

Help for Your Business

While it is important for you, as a business owner, to cut ties with employees who you feel are not contributing sufficiently to your company, it is also important to ensure that you are legally justified in that decision. For more information about the process of terminating an employment relationship, speak with experienced attorney at the Philadelphia Small Business Law Center. We look forward to hearing from you and helping your business grow.

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