Human Resources Center
Few things cause nervousness in the workplace more than having to discipline or terminate an employee. Working with WorkSmart Systems will help to alleviate this stress by ensuring that conversations are done appropriately and legally. The sooner you involve us in the process, the better we can assist with the situation.
What does “at-will” mean?
Many states (including Indiana) are considered “at-will”. This means, literally, that employment can be terminated any time and for any reason, as long as it is within the law. At-will tends to be very employee-friendly, as long as it is handled correctly. It is considered illegal to terminate an employee for any of the following reasons:
- Instances of an implied contract. This simply means that if you made a promise to an employee (real or implied) that you would hold their job for a period of time, you may be in violation of the contract for an early termination. The best example is, in fact, a “contract”. Absent this written document, however, employers have been held to a contract for simply saying “do a great job and you’ll be here forever,” or by simply allowing “bad” employees to stay in an organization for years. The best defense against this type of claim is a strong at-will statement in your handbook and some simple management training.
- Violating public policy. Simply stated, this means that you cannot terminate an employee for any reason that is illegal. For example, you cannot terminate an employee for filing a worker’s compensation claim or for having a garnishment against their wages.
- Whistle-blowing/retaliation. Employers are not allowed to terminate an employee for bringing to light an illegal action of the employer. For example, reporting an OSHA violation or reporting a sexual harassment claim or a wage and hour violation. The reported offense would have to be something that breaks a law or statute in order for the employee to be wrongfully terminated… Technically, an employee could be terminated for telling on another employee for a general rule violation, or exposing personal affairs.
- Discrimination. Employers are not allowed to fire an employee based on them being in a protected characteristic /class such as age, race, religion, disability, sexual preference (some states, local statutes), pregnancy, etc. Terminating someone in one of these categories is acceptable as long as you are not termination them because (directly or indirectly) they are in this class. It is very important to be aware of the perception as much as the reality in cases of potential discrimination.
What does “progressive discipline” mean?
Step 1: Verbal Counseling (place documentation of counseling in the employee’s file, including the reason for counseling, the date and time of counseling along with who was present)
Step 2: First Written Warning
Step 3: Second Written Warning (optional)
Step 4: Termination
There is no mandate that requires this process to be followed in non-union organizations however; following these steps represents the ultimate defense when an employer is questioned about their termination practices. WorkSmart Systems will be happy to assist you through all of these steps.
Employee Discipline Documents