Does the employer by law have to provide written notification of termination and if so, how far in advance?
A friend of mine had this question:
I was called at work in a large corporation in mid-September by HR and told orally that my last day of work would be 10/30 and I would get an email with the details of the severance the following day. I never received anything, in writing or otherwise, until a FedEx package with the terms of the severance arrived at my house on 10/30, terminating me (and my health insurance) that day.
Does the employer by law have to provide written notification of termination and if so, how far in advance? (The company’s handbook states either party can end employment at will.)
Under the law in most states, if there’s no employment contract, workers are employed on an “at-will” basis. That means employers have the right to fire employees at any time for any reason or no reason at all, and, conversely, employees have the right to leave the organization at any time.
If an employee is under contract, though, the terms of the contract apply. A written contract may specify the reasons you can terminate the employee, while an oral contract usually implies that termination can occur only for cause. That means the employer can terminate the worker only for poor performance, dereliction of duty, an act of dishonesty or insubordination, or because the company needs to eliminate the employee’s position.
Exception 1: Discrimination.
Under federal law it’s illegal to terminate workers because of their age, race, religion, sex, national origin or a disability that does not influence their job performance. Some states add other limitations—for example, in many states, you can’t fire someone over sexual preference.
Exception 2: Public policy.
You cannot legally terminate an employee for reasons that violate public policy. That means you can’t fire one of your engineers for informing the EPA that your company has been dumping toxic waste in the river. By the same token, if a court orders you to garnish the wages of a worker who’s behind on child support, you can’t fire him merely to save yourself the hassle of additional paperwork.
Exception 3: “Just cause” promise.
If you tell your workers that they will be fired for cause only—or otherwise establish guidelines that spell out how and when terminations will be handled—you may be creating an implied employment contract.
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