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  • How to Terminate an Employee the Right Way

    Game Plan

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    Developing an Employee Review Process

    Even after you have established a termination policy and communicated it to employees, your work may not be done. Each type of problem calls for an appropriate response. Our list of firing offenses illustrates this point.

    1. Incompetence, including lack of productivity or poor quality of work
    2. Insubordination and related issues such as dishonesty and breaking company rules
    3. Attendance issues, such as frequent absences or chronic tardiness
    4. Theft or other criminal behavior including revealing trade secrets
    5. Sexual harassment and other discriminatory behavior in the workplace
    6. Physical violence or threats against other employees

    Obviously, criminal matters like theft and physical violence will require immediate intervention, usually involving the police. Sexual harassment, unless it is overt, widely witnessed, and easily substantiated, typically involves a broad internal investigation.

    The other three issues are the most common. Fortunately, they are less serious. But managing them properly can also become process-intensive and time consuming. Suppose, for example, you have an underperforming employee. It’s not just a competence issue, because it’s creating problems with co-workers who have to pick up the slack.

    The temptation, of course, would be to terminate and move on. But that would be inviting legal trouble. Instead, you will need to investigate the problem during formal performance reviews so you can document the nature of the problem. Here, the performance or behavior issues should be presented clearly and unemotionally, followed by a description of the steps the employee is expected to take in order to continue in your employ.

    These steps may include some form of remediation—additional job training, behavior counseling, or both. It’s up to you to establish the types of remediation efforts that are appropriate for your company. If the situation does not improve, then you may make the decision to fire the employee.

    Before notifying an employee of dismissal, HR experts advise holding a final internal meeting that includes the employee’s manager as well as staff members whose perspective is relevant to a sensitive personnel decision, such as an HR director, internal counsel, or a department head. The facts should be reviewed, with a discussion of the basis for the termination decision. And of course this meeting should be thoroughly documented.

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    Game Plan

    • Here’s an example of a flow chart PDF of a corrective action process, which may or may not result in termination. You’ll see it’s quite complex, but it could give you ideas for how to create a simpler version that suits your company’s needs.
    • Sexual harassment complaints are notoriously touchy—and disrupt the entire workplace. In many cases, the investigation process involves interviewing virtually everyone to try to determine if there’s a pattern to the behavior. Here’s an article that provides an overview, and be sure to talk to your legal counsel to see if it makes sense to bring in an experienced consultant to help guide the process.
    • Threats of workplace violence are probably the most urgent situations you can expect to encounter. Here’s an FBI report PDF (1.4 MB) that explains steps you can take to try to prevent workplace violence in the first place, and how to respond if it does occur.