8 Steps to Parting Ways with Dignity

By: MarkWeaver Monday February 23, 2015 comments

The right employees will make your vision come true; the wrong one can turn it into a nightmare.  Or at least make it uncomfortable for you, your great employees, your clients, your wallet…  So what do you do with the person who doesn’t fit, won’t follow instructions, or performs poorly?  Too many employers wait too long, hoping a poor performer will improve, thinking a behavior will change, or just putting off what needs to be done.  Trust me on this one – it usually gets worse.
Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” made the concept of “getting the right people on the bus” famous.  As important as that is, it is equally important to get the wrong people off the bus.  Bad hires happen.  People change.  Attitudes erode.  And when they do, business leaders can find themselves in the unpleasant position of having to terminate an employee.
Failing to deal with performance and behavior problems in a timely manner can send the message that you are either condoning the performance or behavior, or that you are clueless.  There are steps to take before getting to the decision to terminate that aren’t covered here.  These 8 steps help when you have exhausted other options and the decision to terminate has been reached:
1.  Avoid surprise.  By this point, the employee should have been adequately warned that his performance or behavior is a problem.  Warnings can come through an employee handbook, a prior discussion, or some other action that makes it clear what the potential consequences would be of behaviors or performance that the employee has chosen.  When an employee has not been warned, he often assumes your decision is arbitrary at best, and discriminatory at worst, and you’ll get attitude… and more.  Unless it’s particularly egregious, if the employee hasn’t been warned, back up and do that step first; then proceed if there is no improvement.
2.  Treat the employee with respect.  Treat her like you would like to be treated.  Allow her to leave the discussion with her dignity and respect intact.  Be clear about the decision, point out the prior warnings, and help her move on.  You don’t need to beat the person up with examples of how they screwed up again.  At this point the decision has been made.  How you deliver the message can make the difference between someone who leaves gracefully, and someone who has an axe to grind.  Choose grace.
3.  Have a witness Use a neutral 3rd party if possible, so that everything is established and as clear as possible.  The 3rd party can become the facilitator for the meeting and the go-between after, allowing the employer and the former employee to move on.  Where a neutral 3rd party is not available, another member of management can be a non-neutral witness.
4.  Give final pay.  In Colorado, if the employer makes the decision to terminate, all wages are due and owing at the time of termination.  There are some allowances for offsite payroll, but with today’s technology it’s really better for all parties to settle up right then rather than leaving something hanging that is as important as pay.
5.  Gather company property.  This includes keys, phones, access cards, phones, credit cards, phones, laptops, phones, tools, phones, etc.  Don't forget to get your phone back.
6.  Gather personal effects.  This is a little touchy.  Depending on the person’s frame of mind, he may or may not want to go back to his office.  And you may or may not want him to.  In many cases, allow the employee to come back after hours rather than having to deal with this when upset.  If you suspect unprofessional behavior, you may want to box the items up and have him collect them later.  But as a rule of thumb, the more that you can settle at the final meeting, the better.
7.  Get closure.  Depending on the circumstances, you may want to offer outplacement services, employment assistance, counseling, and/or severance and a release agreement.  The goal should always be to part ways in a manner that allows both the company and the former employee to focus on the future with as few ties to each other as possible.  This part needs to be tailored to the individual, her length of service, risk management, and finances.
8.  Document the discussion.   The employer and the 3rd party should document what was said.  Just the facts.  No conjecture of motive.  From unemployment hearings to whatever else may come, this documentation can be critical.
These 8 steps are a bit simplistic given some of the things that can go south when terminating an employee.  You need to handle cases involving potential allegations of illegal harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or anything related to whistleblowing, more cautiously than what is described in this article.  You need to handle cases involving an employee with potential anger or violence issues even more cautiously than that.  As badly as either of those kinds of situations can be, they are relatively rare compared to the number of people let go, laid off, or fired without any such issues.
The biggest risks in this process happen when employers tolerate poor performance or bad behavior for years, while affirming satisfactory performance, only to finally get fed up enough to do something.  Employees should be adequately warned of consequences for behaviors and performance that are not meeting standard.  When immediate and sustained improvement is not attained, savvy bosses will take action.  And then get back to their vision.
There’s a lot to terminating employees.  Open Door HR Solutions helps organizations deal with critical employee relations issues such as employee terminations.  We work to bring closure to both parties, freeing each to focus forward.

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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