Acceptable Reasons for Termination
It’s your business: Why can’t you simply fire employees as you see fit?
There are at least 55,000 reasons why that’s not a good idea. That’s the number of charges against employers for unfair termination received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2010. Even if the issue, in your eyes, is obvious incompetence or persistently obnoxious behavior, the employee can always file a complaint claiming discrimination based on race, sex, religion, age, or political beliefs.
In this environment, the employer has to prove that the firing was based on specific behavior and not antipathy toward a group or class of people. Legally, this is described as firing “for cause.” In general, there are a half-dozen categories of acceptable reasons for termination:
- Incompetence, including lack of productivity or poor quality of work
- Insubordination and related issues such as dishonesty and breaking company rules
- Attendance issues, such as frequent absences or chronic tardiness
- Theft or other criminal behavior including revealing trade secrets
- Sexual harassment and other discriminatory behavior in the workplace
- Physical violence or threats against other employees
All of these behaviors are impediments to the proper functioning of your business. The first three can directly impact your business effectiveness, reduce profits, and hurt morale in the workplace. The second set of three causes pose risks to the health, safety, and reputation of your employees, customers, and the business in general.
You can and should fire employees whose behavior fits in these categories. You just need to do it the right way—following established processes for communicating your concerns and documenting every step you take along the way.