Boss: Documentation, schmockumentation; this guy’s a poor performer and I want him gone today.
The trouble with this scenario—terminating with no backup evidence of poor performance—is that there is usually documentation that shows good performance. Typically, since the person hasn’t been terminated before, his or her performance reviews read “good” or “satisfactory.”
Now, this is like the “offering a false reason” problem—you are essentially saying to the jury, “Trust me when I say that I lied on the performance reviews.”
Sin #8. Not Giving the Employee a Chance to Explain
Boss: You’re fired—that’s the third time you’re late.
Employee: I know I was late, but …
Boss [interrupting]: It doesn’t matter why; the time for excuses is gone—you’re out of here.
Boss: You’re fired—that’s the third time you’re late.
Employee: I know I was late, but I just found out my 4-year-old daughter has bone cancer and I had to …
True, there’s no legal requirement to give employees a chance to explain, but juries will view it as a basic element of fairness. In a situation like the one in the scenario, the jury’s sympathies are not going to be with the manager.
Here’s another scenario. A young woman transferred into a new position at her company. She was late the first few mornings and the new boss wanted to fire her. HR suggested he talk to the employee. Come to find out, she was actually coming in an hour early to train her replacement at her old job and then rushing to the new one.
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Sin #9. Terminating on Your Own
Boss: I don’t need to check with anyone—it’s a termination offense and that’s it.
It’s generally better to have a group involved in deciding on a termination, for a number of reasons:
- There may be other people on the team (like the HR manager) in a better position to judge the appropriateness of the termination.
- A group decision shows that careful consideration was given to the matter.
- Since litigation can go on for years, and since managers can come and go, it’s in the organization’s best interest to have several managers familiar with the case.
Sin #10. Terminating Without Preparation
Boss: I don’t care about checklists and benefits, I want this person gone, now.
Boss: [floundering] Well, I guess we need to talk … ah … well, it’s like this … ah … you see … sometimes we wish …ah…
Let’s face it, terminations prompt many lawsuits, and experience suggests that the decision of whether to sue is often influenced by how the person was treated during the termination. So take the time to be prepared. Know what you are going to say. This enables whoever is handling the termination to better control the conversation and keep it from becoming too long, too emotional, or unclear in delivery and message. Also determine who is going to do what, what documents need to be available, what procedures need to be followed, what references will be given, final pay, and so on.
OK, that’s our 10 sins of termination. Did we get them all? Let me know at sbruce@BLR.com.
Terminations—just one more challenge. Compensation and benefits are never as easy as you wish they were. Even the most basic challenge—wage and hour—should be simple, but it’s just not. Complying with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is one of the most confusing and challenging things comp pros have to do.
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- $976,327: New Mexico aerospace company settles with 900 employees who were routinely required to work through lunch breaks without compensation.
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