Employers may not fire employees for discriminatory reasons such as their age, sex, disability, religion, race, or national origin. However, sometimes employers are put in the difficult position of having a valid legal reason for terminating an employee even though the employee may claim that he or she was fired for discriminatory reasons.
The “For Good Cause” Defense to Employment Discrimination
If an employee alleges that he or she was fired for a discriminatory reason then the employer may present a defense to that claim. An employer is permitted to terminate an employee at will, also known as an employee without a written employment contract, for good cause or for a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason at any time. For example, an employer can terminate employees for misconduct or because business has slowed down and the employer no longer needs as many employees as it once did.
While an employer has the right to terminate employees for good cause or for a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason, the employer must make its decision solely for nondiscriminatory reasons. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 makes it an unlawful employment practice to terminate an employee if it can be shown that there was a discriminatory motive involved in the employer’s decision to terminate an employee. An employer must be able to prove that it would have made the same decision to terminate the employee absent a discriminatory motive. If an employer is successful in proving this element of his defense then the employee will not be entitled to damages.
Best Practices Make “For Good Cause” Defenses Successful
It is important for an employer to remember that it must have terminated an employee absent a discriminatory motive and it must be able to prove the absence of a discriminatory motive in court. While proving the absence of discrimination is not always easy, there are some important pieces of evidence that an employer can provide. For example, an employer should keep detailed employee record files that include all formal and informal employee reviews, warnings about behavior or work quality that were provided to the employee and, guidance or training that was provided to the employee. The employer may present evidence that all employees who act as the employee acted are fired, regardless of employees’ sex, age, disability, religion, race or other protected status. Similarly, if an employer is making layoffs for economic reasons then the employer should follow a logical method for making those layoffs. For example, the common “last hired, first fired” rule.
Employment Lawyers are Important in Employment Defense Cases
For the reasons discussed above, record keeping is an important part of employment discrimination cases. An employment law attorney can help an employer learn how to keep employee records in a way that accurately documents the employee’s work history and that can be used as reliable evidence if a future employment discrimination lawsuit should arise. Once an employment discrimination lawsuit is filed against an employer, an employment discrimination lawyer can help argue the “for good cause” defense to the court. Therefore, it is important for employers to have experienced employment lawyers who can protect their interests.
The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.