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Bryan E. Kuhn
Counselor at Law, P.C.
Business & Employment Law Attorney

Should you warn an employee before letting them go?

As a small business owner, you’re always striving to improve your company. Lately, you’ve noticed that one of your employees tends to make too many mistakes, gets into conflicts with other employees and has lower production numbers than everyone else. Based on these very real issues, you decide to let them go. 

Here’s the question: Should you give them a warning first? You know the firing is legitimate and based on plenty of factors that show something has to be done, but can you just instantly fire them the next time you head to the office? Or do you need to give them some sort of advance notice?

At-will employment gives you broad latitude

Legally speaking, with at-will employment, there is no legal requirement to give someone a warning or a notice. You can simply go to the office the next day, tell them it’s not working out, and let them go. You’re well within your rights to do so. 

There are two exceptions that could complicate the issue

There are two basic exceptions to this rule regarding at-will employment. You need to give your employee notice if:

  • They signed a contract stating that they will get a warning before they are fired.
  • Your company has policies — such as those in an employee handbook — saying that employees get a warning before being fired.

Essentially, the law doesn’t say you have to give any notice, but you are legally required to follow the policies and contracts you’ve created if they go beyond the law itself. If you have any concerns about this process, it can help to work with an experienced law firm. Avoiding a wrongful termination claim can save your company a tremendous amount of hassle and unnecessary expenses. 

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