Wrongful Termination Defense

Maryland is an at-will employment state, meaning that, as an employer, you don’t need a reason to fire an employee. However, there are laws that protect employees from wrongful termination, and if a fired employee prevails on a claim of wrongful termination, the results can be economically devastating for business owners. To avoid being the target of a wrongful termination suit, your best defense is to thoroughly vet all job applicants. An applicant who lacks a solid work history and excellent references could be someone who will end up being a problem employee in the future. Along with hiring the right people, exemplary recordkeeping and clear company policies that define progressive disciplinary procedures can help shield you from a wrongful termination suit.

Types of Claims

Allegations of wrongful termination fall into one of the following categories:
  • A violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. This law protects employees from discrimination based on age, disability, sex, race, religion, pregnancy, or national origin. It also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for reporting harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, and safety violations, and forbids employers from paying women less than men for jobs that are substantially equal.
  • A violation of public policy tort. Employees may bring this type of claim against an employer when the employer fires a worker for engaging in an activity such as jury duty or testifying in court, or for refusing to participate in an illegal act.
If you should find yourself in the unenviable position of needing to fire an employee, it’s important to plan the process carefully and be mindful of what you say in the termination meeting.

How to Fire an Employee

When you have to fire an employee, you should be prepared to offer a basic explanation for the termination. Don’t allow yourself to be drawn into an argument – and remember, the more you say, the more likely you are to accidentally mention something that could be misconstrued. If possible, have another manager present for the termination meeting, so if an ex-employee claims you said something discriminatory at the time, you’ve got a witness to attest to what you actually said. Employees will want to know details, such as when they’ll receive their final check and how much it will be, how long existing medical benefits will continue, and whether they’ll receive a severance. When you can put all this information on paper ahead of time, you can expedite the termination process.

Keep Good Records

If an ex-employee files a wrongful termination suit, you may be asked to turn over that employee’s file to the investigating agency. In claims of Title VII violations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will notify the employer within 10 days of receiving a formal complaint. The EEOC will usually request a position statement from the employer, which is a comprehensive response to the complaint and may include supporting documentation such as the terminated employee’s disciplinary records, and records that show how the same rules have been applied to other employees. Producing the position statement as quickly as possible, along with any other documents requested, is an important part of wrongful termination defense. Be cooperative, and include only facts – no personal opinions or unsupported theories – in your rebuttal of a wrongful termination claim. Lusk Law, LLC, focuses on assisting business owners avoid litigation when possible, but we’re ready to actively represent our clients in court when litigation is necessary. Our experienced attorneys have provided legal counsel and representation to businesses in Frederick County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County, and other counties in Maryland. For a consultation concerning your rights, please call us at 443-535-9715 or fill out our contact form if you have any questions about this topic.