Here at ENLawyers, we have represented both employees and employers in unemployment hearings as well as wrongful termination actions.  Based on some recent information in the news, I thought it would be helpful to dispel a few rumors, inaccuracies, and untruths with regard to terminating employees.

Maryland is an at-will state

What that means is that an employee can be terminated at any time, for any reason, unless they have an express, written employment contract (or union agreement)  They can be terminated from a job for what is called, “good cause” or “no cause” (no reason).  However, both State and Federal laws prohibit termination of an employee for what is called “bad cause.”  Bad cause is something that either the State or Federal government has determined is a behavior or characteristic of an employee that should be protected for public policy reasons.  Some examples are (but not limited to):

  • Gender
  • Race (white, black, etc)
  • Ethnicity (Arab, Italian, Irish, etc)
  • Familial status (pregnant, single, have children, etc)
  • Disability
  • Religion

There are processes at both the State and Federal level at administrative agencies and in the court system to determine and prove if “bad cause” termination has occurred.  Those could be subject to numerous blog entries.

employee termination

conducting a thorough vetting of any employee terminations can save huge revenue in the long run.

Termination usually equals receipt of unemployment benefits

If an employee is terminated for either no cause, or many bases for good cause, under Maryland Law they will generally receive unemployment benefits.  The stated purpose of the unemployment statutory scheme is for people to receive money to help them in between loss of a job and finding a new one and therefore Unemployment will tend toward awarding benefits.  However, there are specific provisions for different types of workplace misconduct that will bar employees from receipt of unemployment benefits for different periods of time, post termination, depending on their job category.  These include simple misconduct, gross misconduct, and aggravated misconduct.

  • Simple Misconduct – If you were discharged or suspended for simple misconduct in connection with the work.
    Benefits will be denied from 10 to 15 weeks from the week that includes your last day of work.
  • Gross Misconduct – If you were discharged or suspended for gross misconduct in connection with the work (serious or repeated violations of employment rules or expected standards of behavior could be considered gross misconduct).
    Benefits are denied until you become re-employed and earn 25 times your weekly benefit amount in insured work.
  • Aggravated Misconduct – If you were discharged or suspended for aggravated misconduct in connection with the work (malicious, deliberate acts meant to cause physical harm, property loss or damage could be considered aggravated misconduct).  source.

Of course, it isn’t quite as simple as listed above.  Here is a summary of all the decisions under Md. Code Ann. Labor & Emp. Art. Section – 8-1002 through 8-1003.

Government employee termination

Private employers may terminate employees for their political views.  Understand that the US Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights only protects individuals from Government action, so any violations of Freedoms of Speech or Assembly by a private employer, aren’t actually violations.  However, a government employer may NOT terminate an employee based upon political beliefs or views, with limited exceptions.

Although the government stands in a different position when dealing with its employees than it does when dealing with other citizens, a government employer, generally, may not fire or demote an employee based on the employee’s exercise of her or his First Amendment freedoms. Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006); O’Hare Truck Serv., Inc. v. City of Northlake,518 U.S. 712, 716 (1996). This holds true even if the employee is an “at-will” employee, serving at the pleasure of the government employer and who otherwise could “be fired for no reason whatever.” Mt. Healthy Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 283 (1977);

Newell v. Runnels, 407 Md. 578 (2009).

Of course, it is more complicated than listed above.  For example, a government employer can terminate individuals in politically appointed positions based upon political views, but “rank and file” employees MAY NOT be terminated for their support of a losing candidate or their political views.

ENLawyers Bottom Line

If you are an employer who is contemplating reducing your staff or firing an employee either with or without cause, it is helpful to consult with a Baltimore small business lawyer who is experienced in helping smoothly reduce staffing levels.  Carefully reviewing the basis for termination and conducting the staff reduction appropriately and lawfully will save thousands of dollars in legal fees in the event of any issues.  Alternatively, if you are an aggrieved employee who has been terminated for what you believe to be “bad cause” don’t hesitate to call our office for a free consultation.