What to consider before terminating an employee

April 3, 2018|Deb Lemmer

There are significant legal and ethical implications surrounding employee termination.

In a perfect world there would never be a need to terminate an employee. This is probably one of the most unpleasant responsibilities an employer has to tackle, but sometimes it is necessary. There are many factors to consider in this decision. If you decide to terminate an employee it should be performed in the most ethical and professional manner possible.

Terminations can be an involved process

Voluntary or mutual terminations can be a positive experience for both employee and employer. However an involuntary termination can be a bit more complicated.

Since Wisconsin is an at-will state, this means that unless someone has an employment contract stating otherwise, an employer can terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all, and the employee has the same options to leave their employment.

When you terminate an employee for cause, it is important to document the facts and circumstances of each individual case. Prior to terminating an employee for cause, you want to make sure you have followed the established policies and procedures outlined in your employee handbook. Consistent application of those policies is critical if for some reason you have to defend the termination in a court of law.

What termination elements should be covered in an employee handbook?

Your handbook should outline the expectations for the employee as well as the procedures for employees who don’t meet the expectations of their position. If you don’t have an employee handbook you might want to consider getting one in place. That way, if the situation arises you will have clear and concise expectations and procedures set up. By having an employee handbook in place, and following it consistently with all employees, it can help you deal with wrongful termination suits, saving not only time, but also money. There are many considerations, both legal and professional, on how and when terminating an employee should be done, how to inform your current employees, and how the work the terminated employee did is to be distributed.

Check with your attorney, or better yet your human resources specialist, as they can help ensure you have followed all the applicable employment laws to mitigate any legal risk regarding the termination.

Other termination considerations

One very important consideration is whether an employee slated for possible termination is a member of a protected class. Federal law prohibits discrimination based on a number of factors such as race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability or citizenship. As with other issues concerning employees, the states often have additional limitations on employee termination so it is very important to check into the state requirements.

Retaliation for “whistle-blowing” is another reason an employee can’t be terminated.

Our human resources specialists can be a valuable resource to answer any questions you may have. Their knowledge on this topic can save you a lot of headaches and money when it comes to terminating an employee. Call 800-236-2246 to find out how we can help guide you through this process.


Deb Lemmer, payroll specialist, has more than 15 years of accounting and payroll experience.