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What Does "Just Cause" Mean?

"Just cause" often refers to the termination of an employee.
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  • Written By: Toni Henthorn
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2014
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Just cause is a legal term that refers to a legally permissible or sufficient reason. The phrase may apply to many legal situations, including eviction of tenants, termination of employees, and restraint or termination of parental rights. Litigants in civil proceedings must also prove just cause to file and proceed with a case. The phrase means that a person is acting in a reasonable manner given the circumstances. Courts interpret and determine the existence of just cause after reviewing the relevant facts of each case.

Laws protect tenants from unfair eviction by unscrupulous landlords or owners by establishing appropriate reasons for a lawful eviction. The eviction statutes generally apply to landlords or owners of buildings with greater than five units. Legal reasons for eviction include considerable damage to the property, failure to pay the rent, or habitual late payment of rent. Landlords may also evict tenants who use the rental unit for illegal purposes or create a nuisance. If a resident undergoes eviction without a just cause, the landlord is required to offer rental of the unit to the wrongfully evicted tenant before renting the involved unit to someone else.

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Custodial interference, which is a criminal offense, is any action by a party that restricts, limits, or inhibits a parent's legal custody of his child. If, however, the action taken prevents harm to the child or advances the best interests of the child, courts will often decide that just cause existed to justify the action. Conditions that may satisfy the just cause requirement for courts to limit visitation, remove a child from custody of a parent, or terminate parental rights include child abuse, child endangerment, negligence, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. If a court finds a parent to be inadequate or incompetent in his parental responsibility, the judge's overriding priority will be to attend to the best interest and welfare of the child.

Just cause also applies to an employer's prerogative to discipline or discharge an employee. Many state statutes, as well as union contracts, require that an employer has an appropriate cause for terminating an employee. The just cause standard also may require that the company investigate the matter carefully and notify the employee before the disciplinary action. In addition, courts determine whether the rules governing the conduct for which the employee is being fired are clear, reasonable and evenly enforced. Finally, the degree of the discipline must reasonably match the offense and the employee's previous work record.

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Mammmood
Post 11

@nony - I had a house that I owned which was paid off, and was considering moving into a new house. My friends suggested that I rent out the old house. That way I could have rent money to help pay for the mortgage on the new house.

I decided against it however, because I heard so many horror stories about what it takes to be a landlord. You don’t have to be mean, but you do have to be a little ruthless.

If tenants don’t pay or they trash your property you have to evict them. You certainly have just cause, but do you have the guts to go through with it – especially if the tenants are kind of hard on their luck? You don’t want to throw people out on the street. But this is the kind of tenacity you need as a landlord. I’m afraid that I don’t have it.

nony
Post 10

@everetra - I have a friend who is in limbo right now. She has been with the same company for ten years. The problem is that she is constantly sick. I mean she has just about every ailment under the sun, so it seems, and she has availed herself of the medical benefits the company provides.

Well they’ve been having a round of layoffs lately. The manager told her to check out for the day and they will tell her when she could report back for work. That’s really odd. They didn’t actually fire her and they didn’t give her medical leave. They just said they would call back.

This has been two months and she has been without pay. I personally think they want to let her go but they’re weighing their options if they get sued. You don’t want to let an employee go for an illness; that’s definitely just cause for a lawsuit in my opinion. They could call it a layoff but it would certainly look suspicious.

everetra
Post 9

Many employees don’t understand the meaning of “at will” employment. It means just what it says. The employer can fire you at any time, and you can quit at any time.

Yes, it’s true that they must have just case – at least on paper. But it’s hard to prove they didn’t, especially if it’s a layoff or something like that.

Some employees file unlawful termination lawsuits but these lawsuits rarely turn in the favor of the employee. The onus is on the employee to prove the company didn’t have just cause, and most companies are careful to keep a paper trail, otherwise they don’t initiate any action against the employee.

golf07
Post 8

My brother owns several rental properties and it can be quite challenging dealing with bad renters. It really isn't as simple as just evicting somebody who hasn't paid their rent or has damaged your property.

There is a lot more at stake and my brother has to be very careful when he has to evict renters. He keeps very good records and follows the law, so he has never evicted somebody when there wasn't good reason to do so.

He still has to make sure he can prove he had just cause to kick them out. This is never an easy process and you never know how people are going to react.

I understand the reasons behind the just cause rules are for protection, but sometimes I think it can be carried to the extreme.

julies
Post 7

My husband works in a seasonal construction business and he has to be extremely careful when he fires someone or lets them go.

There are many times when he has lazy workers who don't do their job, or don't show up to work on time. This is really frustrating when there are other employees who are working hard, and other good workers who need a job.

He really has to be able to prove just cause in order to fire someone. Even then, some will try to take the company to court saying they were unjustly fired.

One of the ways he can get rid of the lazy workers is by not hiring them back when the season starts up again in the spring. This is usually easier than trying to find a way to fire them with just cause.

andee
Post 6

I know a couple who ended up adopting a child they had been foster parents for. This little girl was just an infant when she was taken out of the home and placed in foster care.

Her biological mother had several chances to get her life cleaned up and get her daughter back, but she never completely followed through. She made a few feeble attempts in the beginning, but began showing less interest as time went by.

It finally came down to one more court appointment that her mother was supposed to be at if she had any hope of keeping her daughter. She didn't make this meeting, and her foster parents were finally able to adopt her.

They went through a lot of policies and procedures, but they after all of that, they certainly had just cause to adopt her. There was also just cause on the other end, as her mother was given many chances, but never followed through as directed.

There was just cause when they removed her daughter from the home as a baby, and just cause was also proven over time when she showed herself as an unfit mother.

John57
Post 5

@Perdido - As far as I know, you need to have someone like the Department of Human Services, or child protective services take care of a situation like that. If someone were to do that without just cause, they would probably be looking at some kind of lawsuit or charges against them.

I know sometimes this process can seem very slow, but it is the best way to handle something like this.

One of my friends is a junior high teacher, and there have been times when she sees a situation that needs to be reported. She was told to go through the police officer who is on duty at the school instead of going directly to the Department of Human Services.

This is for her protection, but the situation will also be investigated by the proper authorities to hopefully protect the child as well.

Perdido
Post 4

Can anyone take a child away from his parents if they see he is being abused or neglected, or does child social services have to do this? I know that anytime I see a child being mistreated in a public place, I would love to go up and just take that kid right out of the parent's arms, but I don't think this is legal.

However, what if a neighbor sees a child suffering at the hands of their parents? Can he take the child first and then contact social services, or does he have to let the agency handle everything?

It would be great if a neighbor could remove the child from the home right away with just cause. I would assume that a relative could get away with this better than an acquaintance, though.

Oceana
Post 3

@orangey03 – Wow, you have to admit that was clever on your company's part, though. They really covered themselves with that one.

My boss is so careful about having just cause to terminate an employee that he almost never gets to fire anyone. There are people in the office who behave rudely and are just plain unfriendly that he would love to get rid of, but he knows he doesn't have any solid evidence of this, and they could easily claim he didn't have just cause.

I think that employers should be as specific as possible about what constitutes just cause for firing in their employee handbook. If they had listed rude behavior, then he could have gotten rid of these people by now.

wavy58
Post 2

My friend actually won her case against her landlord, because he evicted her without just cause. He should have known that he would get in legal trouble for this.

He told her he needed her to move out, because his daughter needed a place to live, and he was going to give her the apartment. Her lease wasn't up for another three months, but he wanted her gone in two weeks.

I guess he thought that since he owned the building, he could do whatever he wanted with the apartments. He found out he was wrong.

orangey03
Post 1

The company I work for claimed that they fired my coworker with just cause, but it was a twisted situation. They really just didn't like her, because she planned to leave in a few months to accompany her husband to another city, and they knew she was dissatisfied with her job.

On the official report, the company claimed that they fired her for being on a social networking site during office hours. However, everyone in the office does this, and they know it. Even the bosses do, and no one complains about it.

She knows that they just wanted her gone, but if she took them to court over it, they could claim they had just cause, since she actually was on the site. It was a dirty trick, in my opinion.

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