Top 10 Illegal and Legal Reasons for Firing Employees

Firing an employee is not easy, especially, when you have spent considerable resources on hiring and training the employee for the job. Additionally, you must also understand that being an employer does not give you the ultimate authority over your employees; they have their rights to protect their interest.

Almost every employee is an employment-at-will. This means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal.

In case that statement confuses you, know that there actually are legal reasons for firing an employee. But many employers introduce illegal reasons for firing employees, which is unethical and unprofessional and can result in an unnecessary legal lawsuit from those employees.

Therefore, let us take a look at illegal reasons for firing employees, followed by legal reasons.

  1. Race

As an employer, you can hire or fire employees of any race, but the reason for firing an employee cannot and should not be their race. It is extremely illegal and unacceptable to fire an employee because of their race. You cannot create a work environment wherein you allow only people of a particular colour, race or caste to work and fire employees who belong to different castes or races.

The same is the case with national origin and ethnicity. It is illegal to fire an employee based on their national origin or ethnicity. An employer cannot create discrimination at the workplace or in the hiring possess on these bases. A citizen of any country has the right to find work within another country and no company can fire an employee based on their colour, caste, nationality, origin, or ethnicity.

  1. Sex and sexual orientation

It is illegal to fire an employee based on whether they are female, male or from the LGBTQ community. The fundamental and most basic human rights laws state that no person can discriminate based on sex or sexuality. Every person has an equal right to employment opportunities. Therefore, it is deemed illegal if an employer fires an employee based on their gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

An employer can put down a “no-dating colleagues policy” among its workforce. But that is most companies can do.

They have no right or authority to interfere in the sexual identity or preference of the employees. Preferences such as homosexuality, bisexuality or asexuality are now being protected under the rule of law. It states that the sexual preference of a person is their personal preference and falls under the right to personal life and privacy. Therefore, the employer or company has no right or authority to discuss or discriminate with the employee on issues related to their sexuality.

  1. Religion

Firing employees based on religion is one of the most illegal reasons for firing employees. Our fundamental laws are secular and give every individual the right to religion and religious practice. Therefore, any person, regardless of their religion — whether they are Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain or follow another belief — is free to practice their religion without being discriminate for it at the workplace. Therefore, it is considered illegal to fire an employee because of their religion.

What this essentially means is that you can fire employees for nonperformance or improper conduct, but this decision of firing can have nothing to do with the religion they follow. Firing an employee just because they belong to a particular religion is deemed illegal.

However, some scenarios are acceptable and you must invoke them only in the most unbiased and respectful manner. For example, you own a bar and have a devoutly religious employee who cannot stand or be around alcohol, firing that employee is acceptable. In this case, the employee may create a hindrance in your daily operations if he chooses not to handle or serve alcohol. In this case, you have no choice but to either give him a different responsibility or fire him from the job.

  1. Disability

Firing employees because of their disability is among the most intolerant and illegal reasons for firing employees. One cannot fire an employee based on perceived or real disability. Instead, companies must do what they can to provide proper infrastructure and support to disabled employees; this includes, disabled-friendly paths/ramps, workstations and toilets.

Companies must make an effort so that disabled employees can become a part of their mainstream workforce to contribute towards the growth of the organization.

  1. Age

Ideally, it is illegal to fire an employee just because of their age. A company can technically fire an employee for being slow with productivity or performance, but they cannot fire them for their growing age.

This factor can sometimes be unlikely in comparison to the others on the list. For instance, you can fire an employee for being too young and inexperienced but it is illegal to fire an employee for being older or getting old. In such situations, you can be more sensitive towards employees and offer them a more appropriate and fitting role.

  1. Pregnancy

It is illegal to subject women to discrimination on account of their pregnancy, and worse still, fire them because of it. According to the laws of the country, you cannot fire a pregnant woman just because she needs longer maternity/parental leaves in comparison to their male counterparts.

Pregnancy is very well protected under the different national laws and an employer would have to face legal trouble for firing an employee for being pregnant. Rather, employers are to provide pregnant women with a minimum of 26-weeks paid maternity leave.

Legal reasons to fire an employee

Let us now look at how you can fire employees legally:

  1. Ignoring warnings

Even before you plan to take the extreme step of firing the employee, you must make it a point to warn the employee of the consequences of their actions and the corrective measures that the company can legally take if the employee indulges in questionable or unethical activities in the workplace. Inform them that the employee may even face job termination if they don’t correct themselves despite several reminders and warnings.

The best way to convey this information to your employees is to include this in the Employee Termination Policy in your employee handbook. Make sure every employee reads the policy thoroughly and ask them to sign the handbook. This affirms that the employee has read and agrees to the termination policy laid down by the company. For an organization, this document and the employee’s acceptance signature will provide them with legal protection if they were to face any lawsuit from the employee.

  1. Poor performance

This is definitely a legal reason to fire an employee, provided you have offered them ample help and support in the form of training and guidance to ensure they improve their performance.

Start by warning them about their habits at work and that these habits are not suitable for business. They must know that they may be asked to leave if their performance does not show improvement. You could offer them feedback and/or improvement opportunities through various channels. However, if their performance is still not able to meet the measurable goals set by the company, then the company can decide to terminate the employee.

If you want to fire an employee due to performance issues, make sure you keep an admissible trail of performance reviews as well as warning letters. This will come handy as evidence during job termination.

  1. Gross misconduct

Misconduct in the workplace is highly unacceptable and can be a formidable reason to fire an employee. The process of termination for gross misconduct should first include proper verbal and written warning followed by termination.

Any kind of misconduct at work, such as unethical activities, theft, sexual harassment, hate speech, verbal abuse or physical harm, caused by an employee to a fellow employee or a client is considered as activities of gross misconduct. Such activities can invite heavy consequences. The corrective measures for such behaviour usually include warning followed by termination. In extreme cases though, the company can decide to terminate even without a warning.

To avoid such an eventuality, it is important to cover these actions and consequences during employee orientation.

  1. Productivity issues

The employer should first give a warning before firing an employee for productivity issues. If the employee spends a considerable amount of their working hours on social media, personal calls or typing and sending unnecessarily long emails, you can make a note of this and inform the employees about their behaviour during performance reviews.

Ask them to create an action plan and encourage them to reduce the time spent on such distracting and unproductive activities. Inspire them to rather focus their attention on improving productivity. Legally speaking, a company can inform its employees that they are monitoring their activities and that if unacceptable activities persist, it will be forced to initiate corrective action against the employee, which can include termination.

Despite such warnings, if an employee’s productivity is consistently below the measurable productivity standards of the company, they have the legal authority to fire the employee.

Firing an employee is not easy, especially, when you have spent considerable resources on hiring and training the employee for the job. Additionally, you must also understand that being an employer does not give you the ultimate authority over your employees; they have their rights to protect their interest.

One cannot just fire an employee just because they belong to a different race, sex or religion. This is termed discrimination and the company may face legal action. At the same time, there are certain instances where the employer is compelled to fire an employee. These situations could be employee non-performance, misconduct or low productivity at work. So, as an employer, take appropriate steps and act with discretion to weed out the troublemakers while safeguarding the rest of your workforce.

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One of the prime contributors for this blog, Expertise in Staffing and Recruitment, Content Strategist by Profession. A Music Lover & Traveller by Choice.

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