Terminating Employees

In most states, “at-will” employees (that is, employees who do not have employment contracts for a particular term or who are not covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements) may be terminated at any time and for any reason, as long as the reason is not an unlawful one. Generally, there are no particular procedural requirements that must be followed in terminating an at-will employee. Examples of unlawful reasons for termination include discharging an employee because of his/her race, gender (including  pregnancy status), age (applies to people 40 years old and older), color, religion, national origin, or disability or handicap (if the person is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations).Employers usually are not required to inform terminated employees, either verbally or in writing, of the reason for their termination,
although it is customary to do so. It is important that an employer give the complete and accurate reason for an employee’s termination if it chooses to give a reason. Employees who are covered by union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements ordinarily can be terminated only for “just cause” or the like. Some employers voluntarily provide severance pay to terminated employees, particularly if the termination resulted from a “layoff,” a workforce reduction due to the elimination of redundant positions or for other economic reasons. Plans that provide employees with severance pay should be reproduced in writing and conform to certain other requirements in ERISA . There is a federal law called
the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) that requires employers with 100 or more full-time employees to provide 60 days’ written notice to employees or their union representatives and other officials in the event of a plant closing or mass layoff at a single site of employment. There may be similar state law requirements in some states. As noted above, involuntarily terminated employees may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, which would be paid directly by the state government. Additionally, under COB RA, terminated employees and their dependents are entitled to continue their group health insurance coverage at their own expense for various periods as
long as 36 months after particular events occur.

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