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7 Ways to protect yourself if you need to fire an employee

As an employer, sooner or later you will be faced with the reality of having to fire an employee. No one looks forward to this moment, and everyone hopes they will be able to move on and not let whatever led to the firing keep them from leading a fulfilling career or running a successful business.

However, as many employers know, even if you have legitimate grounds for firing a person, if it is not done correctly, you may be opening your business up to costly lawsuits. Following these guidelines can help you avoid being sued when letting someone go.

Don't fire anyone for discriminatory reasons

This may seem obvious, but it is more common than you might think. If you are planning to fire someone based on his or her race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation, you are asking for an expensive lawsuit.

Be mindful of situations that may seem like discriminatory firing

Even if those reasons listed above do not factor into your decision to fire someone, the person who is fired may believe they do, and you may be facing a lawsuit anyway. It is always wise to consider the potential long-term cost of firing someone if the circumstances may seem as though they are discriminatory.

Don't punish whistleblowers by firing them

It will not go well for you if you fire an employee who has filed a complaint about your company. Federal whistleblowing laws are there to provide whistleblowers (and their attorneys) with muscle to fight these kinds of retaliations. You probably don't want to put yourself on the wrong side of this fight.

Give proper notice

A written notice 60 days prior to the layoff is required under the federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act if you are laying off more than 50 people or more than one-third of the company's full-time staff.

Do not delay the final paycheck to the person you fire

Just because they don't work for you anymore doesn't mean they aren't entitled to be paid for their last few weeks of work. Denying or delaying pay to your fired employee is another easy lawsuit waiting to happen, and not worth the trouble. Besides, the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation requires that you pay your fired employee by the next scheduled pay date.

Don't forget to offer COBRA

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA, requires companies to offer group health coverage to fired or laid off employees for at least 18 months, if the company has more than 20 employees. There is a caveat to this one - you are not required to offer continuing coverage if the employee is fired for gross misconduct.

Tread carefully in complex situations

Your particular situation or motivation for wanting to fire an employee may not involve a cut-and-dry solution. If you have an employee who has filed complaints, it may be more difficult to fire them, even with cause. Accusations of discrimination may not be founded, but that doesn't mean they won't arise. A comprehensive understanding of all factors in the situation will help you anticipate potential complications before they have time to become real problems.

It's still a battlefield out there

Even if you do your best to comply with the law when firing an employee, you may find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. In this case, it is best to seek out the guidance of a qualified attorney with extensive experience helping employers navigate employment law cases. He or she can help you protect your rights while you fight any charges.

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