Terminate an At-Will Employee for Poor Performance

Key Points

  • While an employer need not justify its decision to terminate an at-will employee for poor performance, laying the groundwork for termination, including documenting evidence and reasonable decision-making, may prevent future or escalating disputes or even litigation.
  • The decision to terminate an at-will employee for poor performance should follow attempts to correct the employee's poor performance, including the use of performance improvement plans, discipline like probation or suspension and candid discussions with the employee regarding his or her shortcomings and the eventual penalties for failure to improve.
  • If an at-will employee reaches the end of the performance improvement cycle without any substantial or meaningful improvement, HR professionals may offer the employee a clean break from the organization by using termination, severance or "separation" agreements to protect the employer's interests following termination.