When it comes to employee terminations, managers often make decisions based on emotion. An employee comes in late, and you’ve had it, so you want to fire her. While that might be allowable, it’s not always advisable, and can result in lawsuits. What if, for example, the employee was late because she was a victim of domestic violence? Or, you didn’t fire that employee who was late for the umpteenth time last week. These and many other factors could gain the employee protection under the law. Let’s take a look at steps you can go through to protect your company when making termination decisions.
- Don’t make snap decisions. Rare is the situation when an employee needs to be terminated right now. Take the time to review the circumstances leading up to the violation. This may require an investigation. You might find that the situation was not as you initially thought, and termination isn’t appropriate. Avoiding snap decisions also helps prevent making decisions in anger, as they rarely turn out well.
- Look at the employee’s history. Has the employee been disciplined for the issue in the past? Is that discipline documented? While there are some circumstances which could lead to termination for the first instance, such as drinking on the job or theft, the majority of violations should be documented with progressive discipline in the employee’s file. In most cases, termination should not be a surprise. The employee should already be on notice.
- Is the employee protected? This is often not an easily answered question. The employee could be in a protected class, such as based on their sex, race, or religion, for example. But, they could also engage in a protected activity, such as filing a harassment complaint, or taking protected leave. When an employee is protected, it’s doubly important to have documentation of the lawful reason you’re considering termination, or they could claim you are discriminating or retaliating against them. Talk with your human resource manager about the potential risks which exist before making the final decision.
- What have you done in the past? Employees should be subject to the same (or substantially similar) discipline for the same violation. If you terminate one employee but only warn the next for the same violation, you’re setting your company up for a claim of discrimination. Review your records to see how others have been treated in the past when making disciplinary decisions.
- Prepare. If you determine that termination is appropriate – a decision which should be made with your human resource manager – prepare for the meeting. Many state regulations require you to pay an employee at the time of termination. Make sure you know what the rules are in your state, and prepare accordingly. You may also be required to provide certain documents to the employee under state law.
- Meeting with the employee in person. When possible, you should meet with the employee face-to-face. You want to deliver the message clearly, and give them an opportunity to ask questions. It’s advisable to have a witness with you in the meeting.
- Document. After the meeting, document the outcome including your comments and the employee’s. Keep the documentation with the employee’s file.
Taking the time to properly prepare for a termination is critical to protect your company. Few situations warrant immediate termination, and the time you take to prepare can save you from unnecessary problems down the road.