I am acting as President of the company. The company merged with another and we now have 4 owners on the board. The board voted to have me terminate an employee based on her being the sister of the majority owner and feeling they could not “deal” the same with her because they feared retribution from the majority owner. The former employee now feels she was wrongfully terminated. She was a valuable employee, did her job and was never disciplined. She was to be awarded a rather nice bonus based on her performance last fiscal year. She wasn’t paid the bonus before termination even though she had been informed of the amount she was to be paid. To ease their conscience, the Board awarded a six-month salary severance with benefits. We did not put anything in writing but if I am deposed, I must tell exactly what happened. Does she have a case since I can’t find any provision in Georgia law which would apply? We are an “at will” state and I believe I can terminate for any reason not covered under EEOC as long as she doesn’t have a contract, no matter how bad the reason. Thank you!

Posted  12-15-2003

Rita Risser replies:

Lucky for you, you live in Georgia, a state where it is almost impossible for an employee to win a case for wrongful termination. Your last sentence is right, you can fire for no reason as long as you don’t violate the EEO laws.

However, even in Georgia you have to pay former employees what they are due. You do owe her the bonus. It’s too bad you gave her severance pay and didn’t have her sign a release for it. You could have paid her the bonus, plus $1 (one dollar) and had her sign a release and you wouldn’t be in this mess.

I suggest you pay her the bonus today, and start talking to lawyers so that you will have one ready when you need one. Even if you don’t get sued for this, you will need a lawyer before you fire a high-level person next time.

Good luck.

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