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At-will employment laws don’t prevent wrongful termination claims

On Behalf of | Dec 29, 2021 | Business Law

Employers in Minnesota have legal obligations to their workers. They need to comply with both state and federal employment laws. Beyond that, they also have to uphold the contracts that they execute with their workers.

Sometimes, people running their own businesses may not fully understand their obligations to their employees. For example, Minnesota state law makes it an at-will state for employment. Either an employer or an employee can sever an employment relationship at any time for any cause or no cause at all without suffering legal or financial consequences.

It’s important that employers understand that at-will employment laws do not fully protect them from wrongful termination claims brought by former employees.

Employees can still claim you violated their contract

Your employment agreement with the worker you want to terminate may entitle them to severance pay. It may outline certain performance metrics or disciplinary records necessary for your business to take punitive action against the worker.

Despite the at-will laws in Minnesota, former workers could still make a claim against your company if the way you terminate them or the transition support you offer does not align with your obligations according to your contract.

At-will employment does not justify an illegal termination

You can fire a worker for any reason as long as that reason is not a violation of their rights. If you make employment decisions based on someone’s race, sex, age or disability, then your decision to fire them might constitute wrongful termination.

Similarly, a company that fires an employee who has recently spoken up as a whistleblower or who has made an internal report of harassment by co-workers could face allegations of retaliation against that worker. 

How can you protect your company against wrongful termination claims?

The simplest way to protect a business from a wrongful termination lawsuit is to document carefully why you fired a worker. Especially if an employee belongs to a protected group, having internal records that show issues with their performance or a history of disciplinary issues can help you justify a termination to the court.

Knowing the state law and reviewing your own policies can help your company avoid employment law mistakes that could have costly consequences, like a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by a former worker.