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What should employers avoid in terminating an employee?

Michigan residents often spend years, or even decades, building up meaningful relationships with one another. And yet, these relationships can turn sour in a very short period of time.

For Michigan businesses, a damaged relationship with their employees can lead to costly consequences. Last week, for example, this blog discussed the potential legal claims that can be filed against employers after the employer is called upon to give a job reference for a former employee. Even if job references are not at issue, the employee may attempt to file a wrongful discharge claim against the employer based on the employee's termination from employment.

Often times, a key issue in a wrongful discharge claim is the employer's communication to the employee about the termination. Accordingly, employers should understand that it is not only what they tell others about the former employee that may give rise to legal claims, but what they tell the employee directly as well.

Generally, employers should avoid going into a great level of detail when they are firing an employee when possible. What may seem like an inconsequential comment that is made during a final meeting with the employee can turn into the basis of a wrongful discharge claim. Accordingly, by briefly sticking to the facts or providing statements such as having to "let the employee go," employers can minimize the risk that the employee will believe the firing happened for an unlawful reason.

In other cases, it may be advisable to have a severance package with the employee or a release of potential claims signed by the employee. Whether these actions are advisable will depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case.

Source: Findlaw, "Employment references -- how to avoid getting sued," accessed on Dec. 19, 2015

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