Let’s face it, no business is immune from making the tough decision to terminate an employee. And no one likes to do it. The real questions are how and when do you do it?
We’ve all heard the phrase “timing is everything.” Well, the same thing applies to terminating an employee. Certainly, there are times when an employee’s serious conduct violation – such as violent behavior, sexual harassment – mandates the immediacy of the decision. But even in those situations, the question of “how” still applies, including thoroughly investigating the conduct violation, obtaining the employee’s explanation, and documenting the termination. But most of the time, employers can choose the right time to terminate, which should be based on whether the employee has been given fair warning of their performance deficiencies and the consequences for failing to improve. If it’s not the right time now, for whatever reason, it may be best to choose a lesser disciplinary measure and give the employee one more chance to turn it around. When a wrongful termination case goes to trial, a jury will inevitably decide the case based on fairness – did the company treat the employee fairly in the way it handled the termination? Disciplinary records and any investigative file should answer the fairness question with a resounding “Yes.” So, here are some best practices tips in effectively terminating an employee:
- Document, document, document disciplinary issues (if it’s not documented, it’s as if it didn’t happen),
- When addressing performance issues, generally use the progressive disciplinary approach (except for very serious performance breaches and for new employees who clearly don’t have the skills for the job),
- Treat all employees alike regardless of race, gender, age, etc. (take the same disciplinary approach for all employees),
- Always document the termination with an accurate termination memo (if you do not provide the reason(s) for termination, the employee may assume that whatever protected category applies to them – such as race, gender, or age – was the actual reason for their discharge),
- In the termination meeting, be professional but firm in your decision. The termination memo should do much of the talking for you,
- Do NOT say anything different to the employee than what the termination memo says (this is not the time to retreat from the true reasons for discharging the employee),
- Don’t ever say to the employee, “It’s not a good fit” or something similar. Think about the negative connotations that phrase has.
Terminating an employee is a very difficult task for any manager. But you owe it to your organization and other employees to meet that challenge. No employee likes to work with employees who are not carrying their share of the work or tearing down the morale of others. Your company’s productivity will eventually be negatively impacted if you don’t take action. But, doing it the right way and at the right time are the keys to avoiding long-term damage and possible legal claims against your company.
Image Credit: From Pixabay, Creative Commons license, free for commercial use.