How to Legally Fire an Employee in New Jersey

With the plethora of laws, regulations, and guidelines that govern New Jersey employers, it is important for employers to have dependable, responsive, and reliable legal counsel. The CMS employment attorneys are here to assist employers to navigate through complex legal issues involving their personnel. CMS regularly provides preventative day-to-day employment law counseling to clients on a wide variety of issues, including employee discipline and termination issues.

What is At-Will Employment? 

Employment at will is a legal concept that defines the relationship between an employer and an employee. It means that either party, the employer or the employee, can terminate the employment relationship at any time and for any reason, as long as it is not an illegal reason or in violation of any existing employment contract.

Under employment-at-will, an employer can terminate an employee without providing a specific reason, as long as it is not due to a protected characteristic such as race, gender, religion, disability, or other protected classes defined by anti-discrimination laws. Similarly, employees have the right to resign from their position without providing a detailed explanation or justification.

When is an Employer Legally Entitled to Fire an Employee? 

The legality of firing an employee depends on various factors. In general, an employer may fire an employee for legitimate non-discriminatory and non-retaliatory business reasons, including the following examples:

  1. Performance or Misconduct: Employers generally have the right to terminate an employee for poor job performance, consistent failure to meet job requirements, or engaging in misconduct or violations of company policies.
  2. Reductions in Force or Layoffs: Employers may have the right to terminate employees due to legitimate financial-related business reasons that would require actions such as downsizing, restructuring, or changes in job requirements or responsibilities.
  3. Misconduct or Policy Violations: Employers can legally fire employees for serious misconduct, such as theft, harassment, fraud, or other violations of workplace policies or codes of conduct.
  4. Illegal Activities: If an employee engages in illegal activities that are unrelated to their job or that could harm the employer’s reputation or business, termination may be warranted.

However, it is crucial for employers to consult with a New Jersey employment lawyer to familiarize themselves with the applicable laws prior to making a termination decision. 

Exceptions to At-Will Employment 

In general, here are some common exceptions to employment-at-will:

  1. Employment Contracts: When employees have written or implied contracts that outline specific terms of employment, such as duration, conditions for termination, or disciplinary procedures, the employment relationship is governed by those contractual terms. If a termination occurs in violation of the terms of the contract, it may be considered wrongful termination.
  2. Anti-Discrimination Laws: Termination based on an employee’s protected characteristics, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information, is prohibited by anti-discrimination laws. These laws aim to ensure equal employment opportunities and prevent discriminatory practices.
  3. Retaliation Protections: Employees are protected from retaliation for engaging in certain activities, such as filing complaints, reporting violations, or participating in investigations or legal proceedings. If an employer terminates an employee in retaliation for these protected actions, it may be considered unlawful.

Employers should consult with legal professionals to understand the specific exceptions and protections that apply to their particular circumstances.

The Best Approach to Legally Firing an Employee in New Jersey

Firing an employee is a serious and sensitive matter that should be handled with care to ensure compliance with employment laws and minimize potential legal risks. While the specific approach may vary depending on the circumstances, here are some general steps to consider when terminating an employee in New Jersey:

  1. Review Employment Contracts and Policies: If the employee has a written employment contract, review it thoroughly to understand any specific termination procedures or notice requirements. Also, review your company’s policies and procedures related to termination to ensure compliance.
  2. Document Performance or Misconduct Issues: Before terminating an employee, it’s crucial to have documented evidence of performance issues or misconduct that justifies the decision. Maintain a record of incidents, warnings, performance evaluations, and any disciplinary actions taken.
  3. Consult Legal Counsel: If you have concerns or questions about the termination process, it is advisable to consult with an employment law attorney.

A New Jersey Employment Lawyer Can Help You Remain Compliant

The New Jersey employment lawyers at CMS are trusted counselors who help clients navigate complex legal issues with practical preventative day-to-day employment law counseling.  Our attorneys are well-versed in all aspects of employment law and help businesses avoid liability. If you are in need of assistance with day-to-day employment law issues, please contact Curcio Mirzaian Sirot LLC

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