At some point, cities will have to deal with the necessity of imposing employee discipline. It is an unpleasant task for both the city and the city employee and can involve a range of emotions which naturally follow when the subject of discussion is the employee's "substandard performance." The sensitive nature of the process makes this area one which is especially susceptible to allegations of unfair employment practices which carry with them the potential for substantial financial liability. In order to prevent this from happening, the employer must become familiar with the applicable law, city personnel policies, as well as understand the rights and obligations of the employer in a given situation, and know when to consult legal counsel. Doing so will prevent the city, as the employer, from losing control of the employment relationship and minimize the city's liability exposure.
Employees in the Commonwealth of Kentucky are terminable "at-will" unless they fall into an exception to the employment at-will doctrine. Next week’s article will review the doctrine of employment at-will and the exceptions thereto, and give a brief discussion of some of the liabilities commonly encountered by cities.
So assuming that the employee is at-will, one of the most important things that a city can do to prevent liability is to follow the progressive discipline section of their personnel policies and to document each and every step. And, keep in mind that discipline should be viewed as a means to correct bad behavior not as a means to terminate an employee.
If termination is inevitable get advice from your city attorney. But if your city attorney needs assistance, keep in mind that members of KLC and KLCIS have access to valuable services and resources that will help you stay on track. By taking advantage of these member benefits before you take action, you can protect city resources and avoid unnecessary liability.
These resources include the KLC legal staff at 1-800-876-4552. We can provide you with sample personnel policies and copies of applicable laws, as well as information about common employment issues related to FMLA, ADA, the Police Officers Bill of Rights, civil service, and much more.
In addition, if you are a member of the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services, your city may also have access to additional legal defense counsel to help avoid legal liability. When contacting the KLC Legal Department with your personnel issues, please make sure to tell us if you are a KLCIS customer so we can help you determine whether your coverage includes eligibility for this liability defense program.