Can an Employee Be Terminated Amicably In Arizona?

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No one likes to terminate an employee, both because of the fraught emotions involved and because of the complications that can result if the employee feels they were terminated unjustly. There’s also the risk that instead of (or in addition to) filing a lawsuit, the employee will badmouth your company on social media.

However, there are ways to discharge an employee while minimizing hurt feelings, the risk of litigation, or other unfortunate outcomes.

Treat the Employee as a Person

No matter the reasons for firing someone, that person still has feelings and is likely to take their termination emotionally.  Their termination will be a low point for them personally and in their career. If an employee believes you understand how they are feeling and have treated them with dignity, they are much less likely to part ways feeling angry or aggrieved. 

Set and Follow a Well-Defined Termination Policy

Every company should have an employee handbook that spells out what actions could lead to termination. In addition, make sure your employee handbook makes it clear that Arizona is an “at-will” state, meaning that employees y may be terminated for any non-discriminatory or prohibited reason at any time.  “At will” also means employees can quit at any time. The Arizona Employment Protection Act lists exceptions to this rule, including if there is a written employment contract.

Not only should you have clear termination policies, but you should follow them consistently to minimize the chance that someone feels like they were treated unfairly. 

Make Sure Your Employees Read and Affirm Your Termination Policies

Have employees acknowledge your termination policies in your employee handbook and elsewhere in writing. These include, in particular, their at-will employment arrangement (unless they have an employment contract), the fact that they haven’t been promised advancement or tenure (unless they have), and company policies regarding discrimination and grounds for termination. 

Document an Employee’s Actions 

One of the most important things you can do to forestall a lawsuit or defend yourself against one is to establish a clear written record of an underperforming or misbehaving employee’s actions, as well as any warnings or other consequences they received.

Remember when drafting this documentation that the audience is a potential future jury. Good documentation also provides ways the employee can improve their performance. 

The employee should acknowledge any warnings in writing. Accurate written documentation of poor performance or misbehavior over a period of time will help support any decision to fire the person if it becomes necessary. It will also demonstrate to the employee that they were given multiple opportunities to improve, which will increase the chance that they feel like they received equitable treatment. 

Make Sure the Employee Receives What They Are Owed

There’s no better way to inspire ill will and prompt a lawsuit than failing to pay a terminated employee what they are owed in terms of salary, expenses, compensation for outstanding paid time off, and so forth. A typical issue arises in regards to paid time off or vacation at separation. 

While the law does not require a vacation to be paid out at separation, unless your policy states otherwise, employees often feel entitled to having their vacation paid out at separation. Verify your policy and ensure you stress the policy when onboarding.

Preparation For the Termination Meeting

One issue people don’t think of before the termination is regarding the employees’ personal belongings. Inspect their workstation or office prior to the termination and determine how many personal items they have and will need to remove.  Get enough empty boxes so they can take all of their possessions out in one trip if possible.

Include Others at the Termination Meeting

Termination is an emotionally tense situation, they tend to go better when there are two representatives of the employer present. One employee will communicate the termination and the other is there as a witness and to document the termination. 

They should be done in a private location and not in front of uninvolved employees or customers. Ensure that there are witnesses as to what is said during the meeting, which should be kept short and to the point.

Even if you do all of the above, there is still a chance that a terminated employee could bring a lawsuit against your company. This risk increases if the employee falls into one of several categories, including if they:

– Are more than 40 years old

– Are disabled

– Are a woman or member of a minority group

– Have been accused of sexual misconduct

– Have called out the company for alleged impropriety and/or filed a whistleblower complaint

– Can allege that they have been discriminated against based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or some other legally protected classification.

If you plan to terminate someone or have been sued by a terminated employee, you need an experienced employment attorney like Timothy Coons to help you handle the situation and protect your rights.  

Contact Counxel Legal Firm

If you would like advice about how to terminate an employee or draft policies and procedures that minimize the risk of a lawsuit, contact us at (480) 744-6621 or at request@counxel.com. Don’t forget to check out the good things that others are saying about the services they received from Timothy Coons on Google.

This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice for your specific situation. Use of and access to this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Counxel Legal Firm. Please contact request@counxel.com or (480) 744-6621 to request specific information for your situation.

*Conveniently located off the 101 Freeway and the US 60 in the middle of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Queen Creek!

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