Three little words in employee termination letter sinks company in court

by on June 1, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Have legal counsel review your employee termination documentation prior to the event

When you’re terminating an employee, even the slightest whisper of retaliation in the employee termination letter can get you in trouble.

That harsh fact was brought home by a recent case in Wisconsin. It involved an employee who, by any standards, was asking to be fired. He was argumentative with superiors, profane and abusive with subordinates, and violated work rules.

After a reprimand and a suspension, the employer terminated him when he insisted on making an audio tape of a confidential work meeting. The employer had ample grounds for what it did, and this was borne out when the employee’s discrimination lawsuit was thrown out as baseless.

But there was one problem.

In the employee termination letter, the employer used three words it shouldn’t have.

The employee termination letter said he was a person who “intimidates employees, undermines administration and, possibly, encourages baseless lawsuits.” The last three words apparently referred to the fact that the employee was listed as a witness in discrimination complaints filed by two other employees.

Deadly hint of retaliation
The court said that without those last three words, the company would have been off the hook. The employee was dismissed more than a year after the other complaints, and that would have been long enough to wipe out any hint of retaliation. But because of those three words in the employee termination letter, the court said it had to send his retaliation complaint to trial.

Cite: Wermer v. La Crosse County, No. 05-C-0092, W.D. Wisc., 1/3/06.

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