Tips for Simplifying Terminations

As I travel the country doing private consulting for kitchen and bath dealers, I'm astounded at the lack of action on the part of the owners/managers in terms of firing unproductive and/or weak employees. It appears that this lack of action is caused by:'

1. A fear of firing confrontation.
2. A fear of legal ramifications (caused by a lack of knowledge of what can and cannot be done).
3. Procrastination (business is good, the employee isn't really strong but is a warm body, etc.).
4. A lack of time to do the sit downs and documentation necessary to make it happen.

Keeping a weak, unproductive or problem employee on the payroll, however, is doing a disservice to you, your employees, the company and the "problem" employee. Your business and the employee team are like a steel chain. It will only be as strong as its weakest link. While no one enjoys firing an employee, getting someone out of the organization who isn't productive or is a demotivator can give a huge boost to the performance of the business.'

The process
Before firing, an employee's length of service with the company must be considered. An employee who has worked for the company for several years should be given several months to improve. A newer employee can be given less time.

Each employee needs to have a job description, and you need to do annual or bi-annual performance reviews. It's a proven fact that by carefully working with employees on performance shortcomings, you can improve the value of the employee to the company. And, employees will know where they stand at all times.

If the regular performance evaluations don't result in improvements, you must start the verbal and written warning process. These warnings make mandatory an improvement in work quality, productivity, attitude or whatever the issue might be.'

Many companies hire employees with a provisional 90-day employment period. If an employee shows poor work habits, unsatisfactory skill levels or attitude problems during this period, don't hesitate to fire him or her. You'll still need to be aware of the legalities, however, as the courts do not recognize "provisional" employment periods.

How you handle a firing will have a tremendous impact on how the employee feels about himself or herself, you and the company. This will, in turn, affect your chance of being sued. In addition, a poorly handled firing can have a negative impact on morale throughout the entire organization.

After you've taken all of the preliminary steps and have made the difficult decision to let someone go, stick to it. Don't procrastinate.

Have all of the final termination paperwork ready, including:

  • Final checks covering pay period, vacation, etc.
  • Cobra forms for insurance.
  • A list of company-owned items that must be turned in (keys, uniforms, equipment, tools, etc.).'
  • A termination form.

Note that some amount of severance pay may be warranted, based on the length of service.
When you're ready to proceed with the termination, ask the employee to come into your office. If there's another direct supervisor or witness who should be present, have the person there. Get to the point quickly. Briefly explain to the employee that he or she is being fired. Summarize the main reasons for the firing, recap the warnings that have been issued and the opportunities extended to improve his or her performance.

Go over the details of the final paycheck and other paperwork. Offer to go with the employee to clean out his or her desk or office, or to mail personal belongings.'

Show appropriate sympathy for the employee, but not empathy. Stick to the main facts. Don't waver or change your mind. Don't overstate any aspect of the employee's performance.
Answer any appropriate questions the terminated employee may have. Remember, terminations are extremely emotional. The employee may not hear the basic message or may not understand the details of his or her firing. You may have to restate some or all of the termination message.

As long as the employees don't lose control, extend them every reasonable courtesy. Giving them an opportunity to say good-bye to co-workers is reasonable.

If the employee does lose control and becomes verbally abusive, ask the person to vacate the building. Don't allow yourself to get upset.

You should have a termination form that summarizes the action. Ask the employee to sign it. If he or she chooses not to, call in a witness to show that you offered it and it was refused.
Thanks to our friends in the government, you need to carefully consider any potential termination from a legal perspective. If you're not sure where you stand legally, consult an attorney before you take any action. The best way to avoid a lawsuit is to be sure that you and all of your supervisors understand discrimination laws.

The paper trail
Creating a paper trail is important for all employees, but even more important for employees you may want to terminate. This is where job descriptions, written and regular performance evaluations and documented verbal and written warnings will help you in case'
of a lawsuit.

Focus on the following points to help make a termination go more smoothly:
n Don't take firing lightly. It can involve significant legal risks and can have a traumatic impact on other members of your staff.

  • Don't hesitate to consult counsel. You may save yourself the huge costs of a post-firing lawsuit.
  • Plan what you're going to say. Being well prepared will make it easier for everyone involved.
  • Be calm. Don't get excited or irritated, even if the employee being terminated does. Soon this person will be gone and will no longer be your problem.
  • Be humane. Be as kind as possible. Termination is traumatic and you must maintain complete control of the situation.
  • Avoid surprises. Giving weak employees the opportunity to improve via performance evaluations and communicating every step of the way will eliminate surprises if it doesn't work out. Never fire someone who has no idea that his or her job may be in jeopardy.
  • Have a paper trail. Good documentation on poor performance will help avoid legal problems.