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As every HR department knows, terminating employees is not a pleasant process, but it is a very important one and cannot be taken lightly. There are a variety of reasons why employees are terminated, but regardless of the basis for the decision, it is crucial that everything is documented. Otherwise, you may be leaving the employer open to liability. Whether you have already decided to terminate someone or need to be prepared for the future, this article will explain what you need to know to be legally compliant.

Why Do You Need to Be Cautious?

The termination of any employee can have consequences for an employer, including legal liability, if the process is not completed appropriately. There are both state and federal regulations that protect employees from discrimination of various types. The requirements of these various discrimination laws can be complicated and thorough documentation at every phase is important to protect the employer from discriminatory claims.

Can We Terminate an Employee Without a Reason?

Florida, along with most other states, is considered an employment at-will state, which means employers do not need a specific reason to terminate an employee. Yet, there are still unlawful reasons for termination that employers must avoid. Some common and legal reasons to terminate an employee include layoffs, poor performance, or treating co-workers disrespectfully.  But even in at-will states, employers are prohibited from terminating employees based on discrimination or retaliation, among other illegal reasons. In order to prove that an employee was terminated for a legal reason, the proper documentation is a must.

Which Documents Should be Included in the Personnel File?

Prior to the termination meeting, company officials should review all of the subject employees performance documents and make sure they are included in the official personnel file. This may require gathering all relevant documents from the employee’s supervisor(s) who may keep these files at their desks.

If an employee has been on medical leave, then all documents relating to the reason for the leave and all requests for leave, whether approved or not, should also be in order, but not included in the personnel file, as it must remain confidential.

Attendance records, disciplinary records, and all acknowledgements signed by the employee upon receipt of the company handbook and other policies, offer letters, employment agreements, restrictive covenants, incentive compensation plans, and other employment-related forms should also be included in the personnel file prior to termination.

Even when an employee’s employment is terminated while they are in good standing, HR still needs to be sure to document everything.

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