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January 30, 2011
Terminating an Employee for Violating Policies or Laws

Do your supervisors know when it is proper to terminate an employee for violating a company policy or a state or federal law? Do they know when such a termination may not be appropriate? Below is some information to convey to your supervisors.

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You have every right to fire an employee who breaks your rules. But there are some important cautions to consider concerning violations of company policy.

  • Make sure employees understand company policies. Review key policies with your workers periodically.
  • Always include a review of policies that affect your department during new employee orientations.
  • Communicate your expectations clearly concerning company policies. Make sure they understand that you expect them to honor the policies you've explained.
  • Describe the possible consequences of not following policies.
  • And finally, be sure to document all violations and apply appropriate consequences -- whether that is counseling, warning, or disciplining the employee.

Under some circumstances, you can also fire an employee for breaking the law. But you need to ask some important questions before you act. For example:

  • Did the illegal activity take place at work or outside of work? Events that happen outside of work and do not affect the employee's performance or threaten your company's security are generally not grounds for termination.
  • Another important question, even if the illegal activity does affect the workplace, is: Has the employee been convicted of the crime? You can suspend an employee who has been charged or move that employee to a less sensitive position. But generally it is not a good idea to consider the issue of termination until the investigation is completed or until the employee is convicted.
  • not a good idea to consider the issue of termination until the investigation is completed or until the employee is convicted. You should also ask: Is the crime related to the job? Most courts would not object to a bank firing a bank teller who was convicted of laundering money or a hospital firing a patient-care worker convicted of rape. In those cases, being charged alone might be enough to justify termination. But a court probably would not support a termination for an off-the-job drunk driving conviction unless, of course, the worker's job involved driving.

The above information comes from BLR's presentation "Grounds for Termination: What Managers and Supervisors Need to Know." For more information on all the training courses BLR has to offer, go to our Employee and Manager Training page.

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