Terminating employees is never easy, especially since you spend more of your time with coworkers than you do with your own family. There is a dirty side to HR, and terminating is most likely the side many managers and supervisors try to avoid. It’s unfortunate, but it is a necessary evil in order to keep the business running. I’m definitely not a pro at firing people, but I had plenty of experience in my last position (around 50-60 terminations in 8 months).
My previous blog post talked about the steps to document performance and or behavioral issues. It is important to always communicate clear expectations to the employee in question. I had to have my clients go through painstaking documentation and steps to ensure we were always following the right procedures. HR seems to get a bad rap at telling others what to do, but I certainly did not have a problem with it because I realized my due diligence would keep them out of court. I certainly believe the goal of employee relations is to keep the company out of litigation and to always strive to do things in an ethical, practical and legal manner.
There were quite a few times where a client would tell me their employee was terrible and they wanted them gone on the spot. I would remind them of the legal exposure they would put us through if they did terminate them on the spot. Most of them seemed to get the gist of what I was saying and would take a different position. I loved telling them it was time to get a clear trail of documentation against the employee so any legal case could be shut down immediately. There are some factors and questions which must be asked before moving forward with a termination:
1) What was the offense? How severe was it? Is this the first time the employee made this offense?
2) Are there previous documented disciplinary actions and or coaching sessions?
After answering these questions, it’s easy to determine if the employee is near the end or at the very beginning. Other factors should be considered and possibly discussed with legal counsel. These topics include pregnancy, protected status of employee (Title VI, ADA, ADEA) and other areas as well. All documentation should steer clear of any protected legal areas, if anything is ever said or documented about these topics, it may be safe to start over with the disciplinary process and coach/counsel the manager and or supervisor for the inappropriate documentation/statements.
After all areas are checked to ensure there is no legal exposure, it should then be determined if the documentation is sufficient enough to warrant termination. If the employee is to be terminated, the question should be asked if past incidents similar like this one have been handled the same way in the past. If all signs point to yes, it should be approved by HR to perform the termination. The most crucial part is the offboarding process.
If an employee is to be terminated during business hours and in a high traffic area, the termination should happen in the most private area of the building with little exposure to interruption. If the person may pose a safety risk, it is important to arrange security to be present outside the room to escort the employee after the termination has taken place. If the employee is on suspension (away fromt he facility), the termination can take place on the telephone.
On the day of the termination, the meeting should take no longer than 2 minutes. Anything longer than this is just an opportunity for someone to say something they should not say to the employee. The person performing the termination should only say a few lines which may include:
“Hello _______, I’m __________ from HR and am here today to talk about your continued performance/behavior issues which we have discussed with you previously. After evaluating all the documentation, the company has approved for your employment to be terminated effective immediately.”
After this small statement, it is then time to talk about the employees benefits, their PTO, COBRA, final paycheck as well as who to call with questions. The last thing to collect before escorting the employee out is their keys or ID badge. Once collected, the manager/supervisor and or security should escort the employee out of the building. Once this is done, the hardest part is taken care of. The manager and or supervisor should ensure all accesses are turned off.
The most common question I would get from the person being terminated is why was this happening to them. I would generally answer them in a manner which was honest and straight to the point. I would say, “This does not mean you’re a bad person or a failure, you are just not a good fit for the position.” Most of these individuals have a somber mood and generally are checked out when we’re talking to them. When they leave, most are not angry and walk out quitely.
This will by far be the hardest task a manager will have to deal with besides disciplining another employee. While difficult, it is necessary to perform these tasks. Business cannot go on if poor performance/behavior continues. Businesses rely on HR to keep the company running efficiently and without interruption.
If this is your first time terminating someone, you should consult with HR to get some assistance on their procedures of termination. Also , do a lot of practicing before-hand in order to keep dialogue to a minimum. As I tell all managers and supervisors, you don’t want to become a professional at terminating employees, but you want to be good at it and prepared to do this at any time.