Business Survival: When Employees Leave

When a key employee leaves a remodeling business, it can cause problems, especially if no plan is in place to deal with the ramifications. It’s practically impossible to prevent an employee from choosing to leave a company, but it’s within every remodeler’s grasp to maintain some level of control in the situation, both before and after the person leaves.

Employee departures have taken the form of layoffs in recent years, but occasionally, especially in the most recent months as remodeling activity picks up around the country, employees leave willingly to pursue other interests or work for competitors. Remodelers can take action to prevent damage from an employee’s departure and to protect themselves as well.

Darius Baker, MCR, CKBR, UDCP, and CEO of D&J Kitchens and Baths in Sacramento, Calif., (djkitchen.com), has a database of potential employees compiled over his career. He can go to this list in a crunch and at a moment’s notice to fill a vacated position. “This database has saved me over the years,” he recalls.

“Step two is to never overcommit to work we can’t handle,” Baker says. “I will not have more jobs in progress than I have employees. I like to make sure someone can be on each job every day. I can plan for this by looking at my schedule and discussing it every Monday at our weekly meeting. If I see a job coming up, we can hire someone to cover it.”

Employers rarely expect staff to leave, and most often it’s a big surprise. Surprises and construction schedules don’t mix, so sometimes it’s necessary to break the news to clients. “I’ve called clients when an employee has left to tell them I could start their project but it would drag for awhile and they’ll be frustrated. I’d rather put off the start until I get new help. I believe bad news is better than no news, and I think clients agree. I tell them I’d rather call them today than just not show up tomorrow. This way, at least they know what was happening and could process it better,” Baker says.

Baker also mentions hiring someone at times other than when someone leaves; Baker will not hire unless he has a three-month backlog.

Surprise employee resignations, which most are, often are dealt with the same way, which is to politely ask the employee to leave that day despite any two-week notice the employee gives. “Almost invariably, if someone resigns out of the blue it means they’re not happy here. So why leave them here for two weeks knowing I won’t get the most out of them for that time? I’d just rather they leave and usually they’re happy to comply.”

Legal issues can pop up when an employee leaves, as Baker experienced a few years ago. When the recession began, a decision was made to cut back to 32-hour work weeks rather than laying off staff. The first employee Baker told did not enjoy hearing the news and, to make a long story short, the person was let go two days later.

“I made [the employee] sign a document I took from a human resources book that addresses employee terminations. The form addressed vacation pay, deductions and so on, as well as a section for me to state why the person was terminated, whether it’s a layoff, the employee’s decision, etc. I wrote that it was due to insubordination. [The employee] signed it, agreeing to my statement,” Baker says, which protects him in most cases. In this instance, however, minor legal action on the employee’s part ensued, which ended with attorneys coming to an agreement. “The document helped a lot, but nothing is perfect,” he adds.

Sometimes there’s a good reason for an employee to leave, and there’s nothing to do but be supportive. For example, one of Baker’s longest tenured employees recently quit to pursue a degree in physics. “He told me taking night classes will take forever, so he needed to begin taking day classes; otherwise, he’d never get his degree and would miss his window to work in that field. So I supported him since he had worked hard for me for so long. What else could I do?” he asks.

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