Firing 101 Part 5—Let a Group Decide Termination

In the 5th installment of our Firing 101 series, Stephen Bruce explains the many factors that a group should take into account before making a final decision as well as reasonable alternatives to termination.

SB: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor. This is the fifth video in our Firing 101 series—Let a Group Decide.

Even if you’re sure termination is the best course of action, it’s generally better to let a group make the final decision. Why? First of all, other managers, HR, and legal advisors may be in a better position to determine the most appropriate action because they are familiar with actions taken before in similar circumstances, they know organization policy and how it is typically applied, and they are familiar with the legal threats terminations bring.     In addition, if the termination should ever be questioned in court, a group decision shows careful consideration—a reasoned and businesslike approach.     Finally, since litigation often takes place years after the fact, it’s best to have several managers familiar with the particulars of a situation.

Your team should also consider whether termination is the best solution or whether there are less drastic alternatives. If a lawsuit develops, as an element of fairness, the jury will want to know whether you considered suspension or some other less drastic measure.

A suspension is a dramatic gesture that unmistakably tells the employee that the problems are serious. Generally, if there is a repeat of the problem, the employee is fired.

Note that you must be careful with exempt employees and unpaid suspensions. Check with your HR department.

Some employers pay the worker during the suspension and stress the employee’s empowerment in making decisions related to his or her future. This approach is often called a “decision leave.”

Another alternative to consider is allowing the employee to “resign.” Sometimes, this solution is “win-win.”  It allows the employee to preserve dignity and move into a job search without the stigma of having been fired. And it allows the employer to reduce (not eliminate, unfortunately) the likelihood of a lawsuit, especially if the employee is required to sign a release.

In most situations, it is possible for the employee to resign and still collect unemployment, and many employers allow this.

One additional alternative to consider is reassignment. Might the employee make a worthwhile contribution in another position?

In making a final decision the team should take into account the following factors:

–How severe the offense is.–How clearly the offense is delineated by policy and practice.–How solid the evidence against the person is.–How long the employee has worked for the organization.–What the employee’s work record shows.–How employees committing the same or similar offenses have been treated in the past.–The likelihood of a lawsuit.–Whether the employee falls into a protected category and what the employer’s record has been in hiring and firing others in that category.–Whether the person has engaged in protected behavior such as taking FMLA leave or whistleblowing.–What the reasonable alternatives are. You have probably invested a lot in the employee. The employee may have valuable contacts that you don’t want to lose. The employee may have specialized knowledge that you cannot easily replace. You and coworkers will endure a period of extra work and confusion while a new person is hired and trained. So consider the business impact of the termination.

Of course, one final alternative is to do nothing, in the hope that the person will “take a hint” and leave. That’s wishful thinking. And when you don’t act, you are tolerating the poor behavior, and eventually condoning and accepting it.

So … if an alternative to termination seems to be the best solution, choose the alternative. But if termination comes out as the best solution, take action.

Be sure to watch the next video in the Firing 101 series, 9 Questions before the termination meeting.

For help with terminations and all your HR challenges, we recommend This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor.