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Documentation maintains employee-at-will status

Florida is an employment-at-will state, but that does not stop employees fromlaw filing suit for wrongful discharge by asserting that their employer had entered into a verbal or written employment agreement with them and then discharged them despite the agreement.

How can you protect yourself from such suits filed by terminated employees? According to McGuire Woods (www.mcguirewoods.com), a law firm that has offices in Jacksonville, Fla., you can learn lessons from a recent case, Chauvin v. RadioShack Corp., 2009 U.S. dist. LEXIS 30564 (E.D. La. Apr. 9, 2009):

In Chauvin, the employee filed suit against RadioShack, claiming her former employer had wrongfully terminated her employment. She alleged that RadioShack had broken an agreement to provide her with a leave of absence and return to work when her medical leave ended. RadioShack defended its decision to terminate her by submitting several different documents the plaintiff had signed in connection with her employment. All of the documents detailed and confirmed her at-will status. The documents were:

• Preliminary online application. This was the application the employee had completed online, and in it, she agreed that if she were employed by the company, the employment would be considered at-will. The document also stated that her at-will employment could only be modified by a separate written document signed by the employee and an executive officer of the company.

• Application for at-will employment. In the formal application, the plaintiff again agreed to the terms of employment as an at-will employee.

• Receipt of her ‘Team Answer Book.’ This was a booklet distributed to employees that answered questions about the company and its policies and procedures. In it, the at-will status was again sated. The employee signed a receipt for the booklet.

• Leave of absence request. In her request for a leave of absence, the employee again signed a document stating that “the below-named person is an at-will employee and no information on this form shall change the employment status.”

Because of these documents and because the designated executive officer of the company had not changed the employee’s status, the Court granted RadioShack’s motion for summary judgment.

Terminated employees may file a lawsuit; however, if you iterate the at-will status in all documents received by employees, you can protect yourself from a judgment:

• Review all applications, offer letters, and company handbooks. Make sure they contain at-will language.

• Limit authorizations. Establish limits on who can authorize or alter the employment status of employees.

• Require changes in writing. If an authorized individual makes a change in employment status, it should be done in writing.

It is also recommended that you have an attorney help prepare applications, letters, and other documents to make sure the at-will status is preserved.

Source: McGuire Woods, www.mcguirewoods.com


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