Just as there are things that employees must deal with in the aftermath of a wrongful termination case, the employer has their own tasks to address. The circumstances are different when you're the person on the delivering side of a termination, so the things that need to be addressed will be different. Employers are usually not as phased by a termination as the employee who was fired unless the employee contests the decision in some way. As a result, some of this information may including things that you have not thought about before in the course of your duties. Some of what is discussed in this article will be dependent on the outcome of the termination case itself.
Coming To Terms With The Outcome
Unlawful termination cases often are found in favor of the employee, so many employers and businesses are likely to find themselves disappointed with any legal rulings. You can't always get what you want and sometimes you have to deal with what you've been given. Coming to terms with the outcome is important for the employer so they can find closure themselves and begin to return to normal. They can be as equally affected as the employee and it's acceptable for them to have feelings on what has happened. Taking the time to process things will allow that to happen faster.
Part of coming to terms with the outcome of an unlawful termination is ensuring that things with the business continue to operate as they should throughout the whole situation. An employer may want to take some time to evaluate the business to see if there is anything that needs immediate attention, especially if they had been unable to focus well on the business during the case. This can actually help things return to normal within the business, and allow the employer to process things for themselves and prepare for anything they need to do per the case outcome (e.g. judgements, rulings, etc.). In the meanwhile, the employer and business will also need and want to:
• Compliance With Legal Ruling(s)-As the side that often loses wrongful termination cases, employers will often need to ensure their compliance with any legal rulings. Settlements and judgements for wrongful termination often range anywhere from the tens of thousands to millions of dollars in damages due, a hefty price for some employers.1 Failure to comply with the ruling and make the necessary payments can, of course, lead to further legal action and penalties. Many business and employers will often create a "just in case" fund for any legal action that is taken against them, long before anything possibly happens; those funds usually help avoid any financial burden that could extend outside of just the employer (e.g. to other employees, clients, etc.).
• Avoiding Retaliation-It's possible that an act of retaliation got you into this mess, so you likely understand what the consequences would be if you choose to retaliate against your former employee. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry or upset over how things ended, but don't ignore the role you played to get to this point.2 You can find healthier-and significantly more legal-avenues to vent your frustration than retaliation. If you have to interact with the former employee after the case is concluded, be mindful of your actions to avoid accidental retaliation and the potential consequences it could cause.
• Plan What To Say-Just as an employee may have to plan and practices what they should say to a future employer about their termination, so should you. While an HR representative will most likely handle any reference calls about former employees, your input may still be sought in some way. Any notes or comments you add to the person's file may be used by the HR rep in describing their time with the company. There is also the fact that industry can create a tight network, and you may personally and professionally know a former employee's future employer and vise-versa. Just stick to the facts of the situation and keep your emotions out of it.
Is An Appeal Worth It?
There may be some consideration towards appealing any legal outcomes that occur in a wrongful termination case. After all, the option is available to all of the relevant players, not just the former employee. Keep in mind though that seeking an appeal against your former employee should come with a large dose of caution and may not even be worth it. Some employers choose to appeal due to their ego-because there's no way they could possibly have been in the wrong in this situation, right? Unfortunately for them, the answer likely is that they were wrong. Others may use the appeal system as a means of retaliating against their former employee. Not only is that unlawful and abusive, but ethically wrong on so many levels.
If you really want to consider appealing the legal rulings of an unlawful termination case, reflect on what reason(s) you have for doing so. Some valid reasons that many people have for appealing a court ruling include3:
• Unreasonable Ruling-While the court tries to make an appropriate decision when making a ruling in a case, they can be somewhat off the mark on occasion. A judgement with too large of a sum for the defendant to be able to pay, for example, may be considered an unreasonable ruling. It may sound odd to think that a business-which is usually much more financially well-off than an individual person-or the employer that runs it would be unable to pay a financial judgement. But for some smaller businesses, a large and unreasonable judgement could lead to things like bankruptcy or financial harm towards current employees (e.g. layoffs and downsizing).
• Something's Just Off-Even if you don't know exactly what it is, you may realize that there is something noticeably off about the case. Such a reason for appeal may be supplied by legal counsel, who may notice questionable elements in a case before you do. While you may think that this is just a scheme by your lawyer to get more money out of you for their services, it could turn out to be sound advice. In some instances, taking the case to the appellate courts could be how a significant error is discovered and set to rights.
Addressing Internal Issues
Any kind of lawsuit that a business or employer is faced with may bring to light certain issues that they need to resolve. With unlawful termination, a court case will point out what was wrong with both the termination itself and with the actions taken by the business. Regardless of what the outcome of the case is or how you feel about it, the entire situation could make for an excellent opportunity to learn and change. There may be several internal issues that may become evident depending on the circumstances, but there are often two that impact employee terminations.
• Procedural Problems-Errors with procedure are one of the more common issues that can invalidate a termination, so it's a good place to start. The problem is in addressing a procedural problem is that you may have more than one. When you find one problem, you may be too focused on remedying it to notice others, especially those who may be far worse than the one at hand.4 If you're going to address one procedural problem, then you need to address all of them to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. It may take time, but will be well worth the effort in the long run.
• Unethical Behavior-Even if your business' termination procedure is perfect in every way, the issues may lie with the people in the business. Adherence to a code of ethics is often what keeps problems in a business at bay, but it does nothing if those within the business' organizational structure fail to do so. Unethical behavior can come from those in the business' leadership (employers, managers, supervisors, etc.) or from the standard employees. It usually develops because one or more of four elements is lacking: an establish ethical code/standard, confidential reporting systems, accessibility to ethical advice, and ethics training.5
There is often some question in the aftermath of an unlawful termination regarding explanations. While the terminated employee applies this to their job search, the employers who terminated them apply it to their other employees. There is some degree of confidentiality that may keep any knowledge of a termination from being made know inside of a business, sans the fact that a termination did occur. That knowledge, however, may not be kept confidential once the former employee makes their claim that they were illegally fired; then it's almost necessary to say something to the rest of your staff about the matter.
Other employees in the business will likely be impacted in some way by a termination or any other major decision, so it's something that many suggest that employers consider before deciding.6 Unfortunately, not everyone heeds that advice and you're stuck dealing with it after the fact. Disclosing the circumstances of a termination can be risky, as your statement(s) could be used against you for defamation of that employee; waiting until after the situation has settled and then only disclosing the clearly established facts would be your best bet.7
Why even say anything in the first place? In many cases, employees become concerned and worried as soon as their employer is accused of anything illegal. With a wrongful termination, they may question if their jobs are safe or what other actions or decisions you've made that may have been unlawful. This can cause distrust to develop, not just between you and your employees, but amongst the employees themselves; some may take the situation as an opportunity to push boundaries themselves or do what they can to get someone they dislike fired. An explanation could help ease those concerns and allow you to rebuild any trust lost as a result of the case.
Aspects Of Reputation And Public Image
No matter how much damage control applied to the situation, it's likely a wrongful termination will cause some serious harm to an employer's reputation and public image. The aftermath of a wrongful termination and any legal action taken is usually the best time to deal with any damaged aspects, as your attention is usually less divided than it is during the termination and associated legalities. However you choose to redeem yourself to repair your reputation and public image is up to you-heart-felt apologies, good public relations help, charitable actions, etc.-and may be shaped by things such as your industry or business size.8 There will be certain factors that may impact the success of your efforts to rebuild, and it's best to acknowledge them from the start.
• Nature Of The Illegal Termination-What made the termination unlawful and your role in it will usually be a good gauge of what damage your reputation may suffer. Certain illicit reasons for termination may be viewed more reprehensibly than others simply because of their nature, like retaliation for reporting serious safety violations. Elements of the termination can cause people to form unfavorable opinions about your simply because you were responsible for it. The harsher those elements are, the harsher people's opinion of you will be and the more work you'll have to convince them otherwise.
• Time-Bad situations, if not tended to in a timely manner, have a habit of snowballing on those responsible for the cleanup. If you wait too long to try and repair your reputation, you're going to be faced with more obstacles in your efforts to fix things.9 However, time can also help you as much as it can harm you. People forget about things as time passes, so your reputation can heal with the normal progression of time. This does not mean that you should just leave things as it and expect them to resolve on their own; use whatever you have at your disposal to get things back on track.
• Your Actions-The actual actions you take to repair things will have the most significant impact on your success. Weak or too few actions and it'll take a very long time before you see any changes. Too aggressive and it might backfire on you, sending you back to square one. You need to make the right moves to move your reputation forwards at just the right pace for it to maintain itself on its path, so choose wisely.
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- Dealing With The Consequences of Unlawful Termination
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