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Beware certain risks when firing employees

Texas is an at-will employment state. This means that employees can be fired for any reason, as long as it is not an unlawful reason, typically one of the statutorily enumerated reasons such as discrimination. An employee could be fired for being late, for being early, for not working enough and for working too much. An employee could be fired simply because their supervisor feels like firing them--and it would be perfectly legal.

Still, employers face certain risks when terminating someone. Even though at-will employees can be fired for any reason, their termination could bring unintended consequences.

Disgruntled employees

Firing someone can have a major effect on an entire workplace. Sometimes, employees feel that their own jobs are at risk--that if one of their coworkers was fired, others could soon follow. Some people will express sympathy for their former colleague, particularly if the worker was popular. Others may show resentment, or even outright defiance, toward their employer. On rare occasions, firing an employee may even prompt their fellow coworkers to resign as a sign of loyalty.

Loss of property or trade secrets

Another risk that employers face from terminating an employee is losing carefully-guarded company knowledge and trade secrets. Over time, many employees acquire valuable insider knowledge about the inner workings of a company. In some cases, they may even have access to trade secrets. Employees sometimes take their former company's trade secrets and put them to use for another purpose, even if they signed legal documents that expressly forbid that.

Lawsuits

At-will employees who are fired for justifiable reasons may not have solid grounds for a lawsuit, but that does not stop them from pursuing one. Frustrated ex-employees may bring lawsuits because:

  • They mistakenly believe they have been wrongfully terminated
  • They don't understand the reason they were terminated
  • Conclude the reason for their terminate must have been unlawful discrimination
  • They hope to receive settlement money

It goes without saying that litigation can be an expensive and tedious process for employers--even if the claimant's suit is eventually dismissed.That is why, even if the law does not require an employer have a good reason for terminating an employee, the best practice is to document, implement progressive discipline, and have solid non-discriminatory reasons for terminating employees.

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