With the college football regular season coming to a close, you may have noticed that a different kind of season has begun, a time referred to by authors and sports bloggers alike as “silly season.” The fun (and farce) is typically kicked off by the mid- to late-season rumors that a formerly promising coach of a prominent program will be shown the door as soon as the clock hits zero at the last game. Many times their replacement—the one who will certainly be able to finally take us all the way!—is an unproven coordinator from a rival school, an up-and-coming head coach from a lesser conference or division, or even more hilariously, a head coach recently given the boot by another program.
This year, the biggest rumors surrounded LSU head coach Les Miles, a man with a career winning percentage above 75% at LSU, a national championship, an SEC championship, multiple SEC West division championships, and seven seasons with 10 wins or more. And let’s not forget Les also had a buyout provision in his contract worth a reported $15 million, which allegedly was “not an issue” for the LSU booster club, despite the fact that the university itself is on the verge of bankruptcy. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed after the Tigers took down Texas A&M in Baton Rouge 19-7.
The ending wasn’t so positive for Mark Richt at Georgia. Shortly after the Bulldogs beat rival Georgia Tech 13-7 to finish the regular season 9-3, Richt was asked to step down, even though he will be allowed to coach in the bowl game. If UGA wins, it would be Richt’s 10th season with 10 wins or more at Georgia. Doesn’t seem too terrible for a program whose only national championship came 35 years ago on the legs of Herschel Walker, arguably the most talented running back in NCAA history. Take it from a Tennessee fan: Bulldog nation, you may be in for a long, hard ride.
When it comes to your company, however, there are times when termination is the best option, be it due to consistent poor performance, inappropriate behavior, or any number of other factors. When that time comes, you don’t have to end up looking like a flustered athletic director after scanning the online message boards. Instead, take these few simple tips on how to prepare for, and carry out, terminating a troublesome employee.
1. Make sure the offense warrants the punishment
It may seem like a no-brainer, but before you terminate someone, it’s probably best to have more than a gut feeling that termination is necessary. Try not to put yourself in a bad position by acting on emotion. Doing so may lead to inconsistent outcomes, which affects your credibility with the rest of your staff.
Instead, if you feel an employee’s conduct or performance warrants termination, take a step back and review the facts and circumstances on which the discharge would be based. Was the employee’s performance truly sub-par, and was that employee in control of those outcomes? Did the employee actually violate company policy? Has he/she been warned before? Did others receive lesser punishments for similar conduct? If so, why? While you should not let the need for reflection lead to inaction, thinking through a termination decision is certainly preferable to the potential cost of a poor decision.
2. Stick to the facts
Too often, I find myself representing an employer whose need to justify a termination resulted in them playing fast and loose with the true reasons for the decision. While it may seem smart to tack on a few violations (strength in numbers, right?), the end result is just the opposite. Adding facts detracts from the true reason for your actions. This may confuse the employee as to why he/she is being terminated. (“You never mentioned this before. What is this doing here?!?”)
It can also negatively affect your credibility when you are later asked to explain the reasoning behind your actions. The inability to zero in on the exact reason for the employee’s termination may mean you should re-think your decision. Once you have formulated the reason for the termination, be sure you are prepared to communicate it to the employee without extraneous explanation or facts.
3. Treat the employee with respect
I have said in this blog and during many presentations that the #1 reason employees sue their employers is because they feel they were mistreated or treated unfairly—not necessarily illegally. Termination is an embarrassing moment for the employee. There may be a lot of explaining the employee has to do to spouses, children, friends, etc. This is not to say you should be apologetic for your decision—if you didn’t have to terminate them, then why are you? But, it’s OK as an employer to show empathy for the personal implications of the termination.
Treating the employee with respect includes meeting privately with the employee and one witness, preferably of a managerial level, giving the employee time to let the decision set in, escorting rather than throwing him/her out, and offering to have another employee gather the personal belongings. By allowing the employee to maintain a bit of dignity, you may be able to avoid potential backlash such as a lawsuit or administrative charge.
These are just a few tips that can help you successfully navigate a difficult termination decision. As with most employment decisions, I encourage you to seek out the advice of trusted counsel to help talk you through the process. Doing so may go a long way toward reducing your company’s potential exposure in the future.