Employment Terminations in 2021: 3 Key Tips from NFL’s “Black Monday”

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

Once again there were several NFL head coach terminations on “Black Monday” – the day following the end of the regular professional football season. As in prior years, none of these terminations were a surprise, because the main criteria to determine success as a coach – wins v. losses –is straightforward. 

Outside of sports, however, the criteria used by employers to evaluate job performance is usually more complex.  Prior blog posts have shared how the NFL’s Black Monday is a source of valuable tips about how to evaluate performance, as well as how to handle terminations, including a termination checklist

Employment Terminations in 2021: Three Important Tips
While reading about the NFL’s Black Monday, I reflected on some termination situations I handled in recent months.  I want to share three important tips that sometimes get overlooked when an employer decides to terminate an employee.  These tips/steps may seem obvious, and were listed in a prior blog, but they are worth repeating with further explanation. Too often employers forget one or more of them, because they are anxious to part ways.

1. Determine if Employment is “At-Will.” Employment “at-will” means that the employer can terminate the employment relationship at any time, for any reason, and without any notice.

Essentially, an employee can be fired for a good reason, a bad reason, or for no reason at all, provided the termination is not for an unlawful reason. Some states have exceptions to the at-will doctrine, but Georgia does not. Therefore, what constitutes an unlawful reason is commonly based on federal employment laws, such as those that prohibit discrimination.

For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on an employees, race, color, sex, religion or national origin. It follows that the risks of terminating an at-will employee are far less than if the employee is employed under an employment agreement for a specific term, which may impose contractual obligations.  Nonetheless, it remains important to scrutinize the reasons for the termination and ensure that they are free of any bias or discrimination.

2. If there is an Employment Agreement, Read It! If there is an employment agreement, it is important to read it and ensure that the termination is consistent with the terms.

Check for any notice obligations; carefully review any stated reasons that allow you to terminate the agreement (such as for Cause, without Cause, Disability or Death); and look for any severance provisions, which typically are triggered if the termination is without cause, as well as any commission and compensation clauses.

3. Check for other Written Promises. Whether an employment agreement exists or not, there may be additional commitments the employer made that may be binding.  These may include offer letters, personnel manuals and employee handbooks, covenant agreements, stock agreements, partnership and operating agreements and benefit plans. Gather and review any such agreements before terminating the employee.

Employment Terminations in 2021: Conclusion
It is always exciting when a team hires a new coach.  It brings hope to the organization that brighter days are ahead.  The fans, coach and team all want the hiring to be a success and enjoy a long run of winning together.

Coach terminations in the NFL, however, are inevitable and so are terminations in workplaces outside of sports.  When making termination decisions it is important to not to rush the process. An important starting point is to determine the employment status of the employee and understand any contractual obligations you may have regarding the decision.