Employers today walk a very fine line when firing employees that fall within a protected class, as the terminated employee may file a wrongful termination or discrimination claim. However, just because a person is older, of a certain race, national origin, or sex, disabled, or practices a certain religion does not mean that an employer should not be able to fire that employee. Employers need to make money too and ensure that their company operates smoothly. Sometimes, an employee, regardless of their race, gender, abilities, etc., costs an employer more than he or she benefits the employer, and sometimes that employee is just plain bad for business. In these instances, the employer can terminate the worker, but to protect him or herself from a discrimination claim, he or she should be able to show good cause.
The “For Good Cause” Defense
It is not unheard of for an elderly individual to claim age discrimination upon termination, or for a person of color to claim race discrimination when let go, and though employers in Alabama have the right to hire and fire at will, they also have a duty to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Under the Civil Rights Act, employers are not permitted to terminate employees based on a discriminatory motive. In order for an employer to prove that he or she did not let a person go because of his or her status within a protected class, he or she must show “good cause,” or a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating the person’s employment. Examples of “good cause” include downsizing, employee misconduct, or elimination of the employee’s position. However, if an employer wants to use the latter defense, he or she should be able to show that he or she offered the employee employment within a different department and that the employee declined.
Making a “For Good Cause” Defense Stick
Proving good cause is easier said than done, as any employer can SAY that they are innocent of discriminatory wrongdoings. For this reason, the burden of proof rests with the employer. If you want to use the “For Good Cause” defense, there are a few essential pieces of evidence that you should have. For instance, if you fired an employee for misconduct, you should be able to present records that include all formal and informal warnings regarding behavior or work quality, employee reviews, and complaints. If available, you should also present records of past employees who were terminated for the same reasons, regardless of age, race, disability, religion, or other protected status.
Likewise, if you claim to have let an employee go because of financial reasons, you should be able to present financial records, proof that other employees were laid off as well, and your methods for deciding which employees to keep versus let go. If you terminated an employee because your business no longer benefited from his or her position, you should be able to back your reasoning via documentation, as well as present proof that you did offer the employee a different position within the company.
A Corporate Law Attorney Is Your Best Defense
If you were accused of firing an employee for discriminatory reasons, do not just assume that the judge or mediator will take your word in good faith. Employee discrimination is not treated lightly by anyone in any state, and if found guilty, you risk monetary damages as well as damage to your reputation. A corporate law attorney can help you gather the evidence necessary to build a sound “For Good Cause” defense. Call Cloud Willis & Ellis today to discuss your case and your options.