Wrongful termination. Those two words should strike fear into the heart of any employer. And while they can often mean a big payout for a disgruntled employee (and her attorney), employers shudder at the fact that the person they just fired may end up being an even bigger thorn in their side once they’re no longer employed. However, a well-drafted termination letter can go a long way to helping avoid dealing with a wrongful termination claim—but here’s the catch—the employee termination letter has to be as close to perfect as possible. And here are six items you should make sure your lawyer includes in her termination letter.
- The Reason Why the Employee Was Terminated. I’m just going to jump right into the quagmire that scares a lot of employers. “Why include the reason for termination?” the employer asks. “Won’t that just subject me to liability for wrongful termination?” The answer is simple. You should include it because a well drafted reason for termination can go a long way to helping prove the reasons why the employee was terminated in the first place. However, be mindful not to go into too many details regarding the reasons for termination—but don’t be too vague either. If you try to be too specific, you may find you cannot possibly prove this reason in court if the employee does end up suing you for wrongful termination. And if you are too vague, you run the risk of damaging your credibility and looking as though the stated reason for termination is not the actual reason for termination.
- The Date of Termination and the Last Day of Work. This really needs no discussion, but these dates should be included so as to document some of the most important dates in the termination process. Also include the date the terminated employee must return all of your belongings and supplies, if necessary.
- Information About Any Prior Warnings Given. If you’re the type of employer who feels the need to give a number of prior warnings to employees before terminating them, you should include the dates you gave them and the reasons behind them. A well documented record of pas poor performance (for example), can go a long way in deterring any kind of wrongful termination suit.
- A List of the Benefits the Terminated Employee is Entitled To. A number of employers give their employees the right to avail themselves of healthcare benefits, among other things, after they’ve been terminated. If your company is one that allows for such continued benefits, be sure to tell your terminated employee about it. And also don’t forget to include information about unemployment benefits.
- Whether the Employee Was Discharged or Terminated. Pretty self-explanatory, all termination letters should state whether the employee was discharged or terminated.
- Whether the Employee Could Have Appealed the Termination. The question of whether you should provide some kind of appeal system for employees who have been terminated is a topic for another blog post. However, if you do provide a system for the employee to appeal her termination, make sure you specify the proper method for appeal in your termination letter and if the time to appeal has already passed, then discuss whether the terminated employee took advantage of the appeal system.
Image Courtesy: Thomas Leuthard