Maryland is an “at-will employment” state, which means that either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship, unless a binding contract stipulates otherwise. In the absence of a contract, a resignation or dismissal can be for any reason or no reason at all. There need not even be advanced notice of the termination.
However, employers wishing to avoid wrongful termination lawsuits still need to be careful when dismissing employees.
What qualifies as “wrongful”?
Workers still enjoy specific state and federally guaranteed rights and violating them is unlawful. For example, an employee may claim wrongful termination for reasons such as:
- They were terminated because they were a whistleblower.
- They were discriminated against in violation of anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII or the ADA.
- They were terminated after complaining about unlawful activity, such as discrimination or unsafe work conditions.
- The employer violated the terms of the employment agreement.
- They were terminated for refusing to participate in illegal activity or for asserting a legally protected right.
There are two sides to every story, but employers can bolster their version with documentation. It should be company policy to keep accurate files related to employees’ performance–doing so can support legal grounds for termination. These can include:
- Records of employee misconduct
- Records of complaints by coworkers or customers
- Performance reviews documenting substandard performance
- Emails, voicemails, and documentation that detail issues or conflicts
- An employee handbook that explains the job’s duties, performance expectations, and other conditions of employment
Records may not be enough.
Companies with accurate records may still wish to consult with an employment law attorney before terminating the employee, especially if the employee is likely to dispute the decision. An employment law attorney can review the records to help minimize any legal exposure, avoid mistakes, and reduce the fallout over the decision.