Making the decision to terminate an employee is never a pleasant experience, and isn't a decision that should be taken lightly. Beyond being unpleasant, however, terminations are often fraught with complications, including the potential for legal challenges and costly lawsuits.
Sometimes, however, it becomes necessary to terminate an employee. In these cases, it’s very important to ensure that you have all of your ducks in a row, so to speak. The following questions provide a sort of framework employers can use to help them determine whether termination is the right decision or not.
Was there a specific incident close in time to the discharge? Timing is important when it comes to terminations. Terminating an employee in response to an incident that occurred six months ago has the potential to be more problematic than terminating an employee a week after an incident.
Can you show that the employee violated a known policy or law? Should a termination result in legal action, the employer's HR policies (or lack of policies) are an essential part of the review process. In fact, they're often the first thing a judge will look at. Having clear policies and expectations of behavior, preferably housed within an employee handbook, offers a great line of defense for employers facing claims of wrongful termination or other legal action.
Do you have documentation to support your reasons for the termination? This process mantra is as true in human resources as it is in most other areas of business: if it isn't documented, it didn't happen. Employers should make documentation of employment-related matters, particularly when it comes to any disciplinary action, a high priority. Examples of documentation include statements, signed acknowledgements and manager logs of performance issues.
Did the employee progress all the way through the disciplinary system? If an organization has an established and documented disciplinary system, such as a progressive discipline model, it's important to follow the process consistently for all employees. If an employee did not go through each stage of the disciplinary process, the employer should ensure that they have documentation to explain why any steps were skipped.
Was the employee made aware of the problem and given a chance to explain? Employers should always aim to get as many of the facts as possible with regard to an incident prior to taking action, and that includes talking to the employee in question. After talking to the employee, it may come out that they weren't even aware they were violating a given policy. Depending on the incident, employers may also want to consider conducting an HR investigation to get an even more thorough understanding of what the problems are.
Looking for more insights on the termination process?
Make sure to check out the recap of the latest presentation in G&A Partners' webinar series, "Legal Pitfalls Of The Termination Process." Click here to view the recorded webinar.