Most CT employers think that “at-will employment” means they can terminate an unsatisfactory employee at any time, for any reason (or no reason at all!).
If only employment relationships were that simple.
In reality, at-will employment has its caveats and limitations. For example:
- It doesn’t apply to terminations for illegal reasons such as retaliation or discrimination.
- It doesn’t prevent former employees from filing wrongful termination claims.
- You can’t fire an employee for refusing to engage in an illegal activity.
- You can unintentionally negate an at-will-employment status by saying something as simple as, “You will have a job with us as long as you show up on time and work hard.”
Being an employer in Connecticut is becoming increasingly complex and risky – especially when it comes to firing workers. Today, A.R. Mazzotta shares a few common-sense tips for navigating at-will employment relationships. While they’re not a substitute for professional legal advice, these tips can help you stay compliant and prevent problems:
- Understand Connecticut’s laws. Connecticut is an employment-at-will state. Definitions and legislation differ from state to state, however, so familiarize yourself with the unique characteristics of Connecticut’s law.
- Include a disclaimer in your employee documentation. The Connecticut Supreme Court has held that language in an employee handbook can convert an intended “at-will” relationship into a “just cause” or definite term relationship, if the “at-will” nature of the relationship is not clear and unambiguous. Protect your company by adding a clear disclaimer to your handbook, which specifically states that the handbook does not create a contract of employment, and that any employment is governed by the “at-will” doctrine.
- Make sure that termination decisions are fair. If an employee is not performing to your expectations, warn him about his performance. Be sure he fully understands what he is supposed to do and what you expect from him. Give him an opportunity to improve his performance, and require his signature on written documentation of your conversation.
- Never act in haste. Unless an employee is obviously dangerous, there is rarely a need to fire an employee on the spot. Follow your organization’s standard procedures for terminating an employee.
- Minimize your exposure by working with A.R. Mazzotta. As the employer of record for our temporary employees, we assume many of the risks associated with hiring, employing and terminating workers. Simply put, we make it safer and simpler to get your work done! To learn how we can help you minimize your employment-related risks, contact your local A.R. Mazzotta office.