To terminate an employee is an unpleasant and difficult task that every manager must face at some time in their career. Discharge should be distasteful and only used as a last resort. It should always be considered as economic capital punishment.
Discharge should never be a surprise to an employee. As a manager, you are responsible for holding each employee accountable to consistent standards of acceptable behavior and work performance. When an employee no longer meets those standards, you need to let them know the behavior or performance expectations that he or she failed to meet, what is expected of the employee in the future, and the consequences of failure to correct the unacceptable behavior or performance. Typical steps in the process are counseling, verbal warning, written warning, disciplinary suspension and finally discharge. In all cases, the 3 most important words are “document, document, document!” Your HR Representative can help you compose and create appropriate warning notices and documents.
Sometimes, unsatisfactory work performance is a result of an otherwise good employee simply being placed in the wrong job. There may be a different position where the same employee may be more likely to succeed. At other times, problems outside of the workplace, such as family or personal concerns, may cause the performance of a previously successful employee to deteriorate. In those cases, a referral to an Employee Assistance Program may be more appropriate than disciplinary action.
When the time comes to terminate an employee whose poor performance or workplace behavior can no longer be tolerated, it should be done in a private setting, with forethought, planning and respect. There is never a reason to fire someone “on the spot.” In cases of extreme or continuing workplace behavior problems, especially if you think that the person’s behavior would be disruptive, you can “suspend pending discharge” and direct the employee to leave the workplace. The employee can be told to report back for a meeting to discuss his or her future employment status at a specific date and time.
While violence is rare, call for police assistance if you have a sincere fear of danger to people or property.
When considering termination, two key considerations are whether the employee’s actions constitute just cause for discharge and whether the employer followed due process.
- Did the employee know or should the employee have known the acceptable standard of performance or behavior? Can it be documented? Is the standard appropriate? Was it well- publicized, posted, distributed? Do you or Synergy have a signed Employee Guidebook receipt on file?
- How strong is the evidence of this employee’s poor performance or misconduct? Does the company have good and detailed documentation and/or eyewitnesses supporting the reasons for discharge?
- Did the employer and/or the HR Representative get all the facts? Fair and impartial investigations and impartial performance evaluations are critical.
- Have other employees done the same things and not been fired? Why? This issue will become central if the employee files a charge of discrimination or lawsuit.
- Are both the documentation and the decision to terminate timely? Disciplinary actions over 1 year old (without subsequent disciplinary action) are often untimely and of no value.
- Is the penalty reasonable? In a criminal case, they say, “Does the punishment fit the crime?” In a discipline/discharge case we say, “Does the penalty fit the violation?” Remember, discharge is economic capital punishment.
- Has the company clearly and concisely defined the reason(s) for the discharge? Are they lawful, non-discriminatory business reasons?
- Was the employee given prior warning of the consequences of his/her poor performance or unacceptable behavior? Was the warning written, verbal or both? Documentation is the key.
- Has the employee’s entire personnel record been reviewed? Do the employee’s disciplinary record and performance reviews support termination?
- Has the employee been given an opportunity to explain any reasons for the “poor performance” or “misconduct” before making the decision to fire? It is essential to give the employee his/her “day in court.”
- Is the company following its own policies as laid out in its Employee Handbook? Failure to follow the company’s own procedures can be very damaging.
Sometimes, it may make sense to offer a severance payment in exchange for a Release and Agreement in which the employee agrees not to take legal action or file any charges of discrimination. Your HR Representative can provide guidance and, working with consul, can construct a Release and Agreement document based on the fact of the situation.
Final considerations include obtaining company property from the terminating employee. This can include keys, cell phones, laptop computers and client or prospect contact information.
After the employee has been notified of his or her termination, it is very important to consider the remaining employees. Friendships made at work are often strong and enduring. While the details of the termination decision must remain confidential, communication from management should assure co-workers that the departing employee was treated fairly and with respect. Never disparage the terminating employee. If it is possible to do so without causing disruption, the terminating employee can be given an opportunity to say good-by to friends at work and to collect personal items.
Termination is never easy, so managers often avoid making the difficult decision. However, when a misplaced employee or “bad apple” is removed from the workplace, the organization is usually better off, and your remaining employees often appreciate and respect the decision. In all cases, please consult your HR Representative early and often.
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