Minimize legal flashback risk over employee firings

Most of the people working for Texas government offices are solid employees, fulfilling their duties as effectively as they can or the system allows. Every once in a while, however, a worker fails to hit appropriate metrics.

If it happens once, civil service policies for the community can establish a plan for correcting the situation. If the issue is one of chronic underperformance, governments have a right to seek to terminate such employees. Often, though, dread of red tape or fear of possible discrimination lawsuits stalls action by managers and administrators.

“At-will” standard might not apply

There is no denying that state and federal laws protect workers from discriminatory termination. At the same time, Texas’s “at-will” employment standard means many employees can be fired for any nondiscriminatory reason. That puts an onus on local governments to design and implement civil service human resource policies that meet legal requirements while minimizing the risk that a discriminatory firing claim can prevail.

Engaging experienced attorneys is an important step in exercising due diligence in this regard. Such consultations can, among other things, yield necessary basic information about:

  • Proper employee identification: The at-will employment standard does not apply across the board. Contract workers, employees under a union contract or who are considered civil service workers are typically exempt.
  • Compiling documentation: Excessive paperwork may be undesirable, but solid documentation is essential protection against possible employment litigation. The records need to show the objective history of an employee’s performance issues and that the person was duly notified about the issues over time.
  • Consistent implementation: Unswerving and objective application of policies across all employees performing similar work prevents any possible claims of discriminatory favoritism.
  • Anticipate applicable law: Before any termination action, examine the facts of the situation to determine if there are any legitimate grounds under any state or federal laws that the employee might be able to use to bring a discrimination claim.

Avoiding legal trouble for a community is laudable, but no one can prevent lawsuits from happening. With careful planning, execution and ongoing counsel from skilled legal practitioners, community leaders can, however, have confidence that government and individual rights are protected.