Termination Series:

Making the Decision. Should I Fire My Employee?

This series will go over how a termination decision should be made, how the organization handles problems before making a termination and how to convey the news for a constructive face-to-face termination. There are specific guidelines when terminating because all of these factors will impact strongly on the employee’s perceptions, their consequent motivation to act on their emotion negatively and the way your current employees will view how you handle these and following situations. It’s up to you to make a termination something that is going to aid you and your practice or something that could collapse it.

Of the many responsibilities of managing staff, having to terminate an employee is one of the most troublesome and difficult. Termination is the final step of investment protection, one in which the return on investment is wholly inadequate, justifying the ending of the investment. However difficult, it is part of the job and must be done in as timely and humane a manner as possible.

Making the Decision to Terminate

Deciding to terminate an employee is serious business for all that are involved. Considering the increase in litigation over terminations and the losses incurred by employers who have made unwise decisions, the termination must be based on a reasonably thorough assessment of the employment relationship. After all, that is what is being terminated, not merely the employee or the position.

Work is an investment relationship. However different or lopsided, the employee has invested something in the job and practice, and the practice has invested in the employee. Termination ends that investment. People don’t abandon investments unless the return is unfavorable. Remember, the employee’s investment is more risky (bills to pay; life to support), so he/she will have a hard time understanding why the company’s “investment” is being withdrawn, and this will present a greater challenge to the office manager to communicate.

Basic Guidelines to Be Aware of in Making the Decision to Terminate:

  1. Protected Group: If the employee belongs to a protected group (minority), the likelihood of legal action is increased. Have all your documentation and facts clearly prepared.
  2. Defensible Paper Trail: Make sure that the decision to terminate is backed in writing by specific, detailed documentation.
  3. Risk Potential: Is the law clear or fuzzy regarding the facts of your case? Second opinions from labor lawyers are advised.
  4. Public Image: Can your practice withstand any adverse public exposure through the spreading of the bad news in the community?
  5. Organizational Culpability: A “failed relationship” usually has plenty of blame to spread around. To what extent has the practice “failed” the employee? Does the practice have a clear definition of its responsibilities to marginal or unsatisfactory employees?
  6. Continued Damage Potential: Assuming the employee is not terminated and situation doesn’t improve, can you stand continued “repeat performances?” What is at stake if improvement is not forthcoming?
    1. Remaining Morale: Management credibility is really on the line in termination cases:
      What impact would failing to terminate have on morale?
    2. What impact would terminating have on morale?
  7. Twelve Strangers: How would 12 people completely unfamiliar with you, your practice and the employee judge the termination? With the record you have, would they conclude the action was reasonable?
  8. Consistency: How have similar situations involving other employees been handled? If differently, what differences justified such treatment?
  9. Shooting from the Hip: Are you just trying to get rid of someone that you don’t like or does the evidence justify a dismissal?
  10. Procedural Consistency: Have published guidelines for company disciplinary procedures been followed to the letter up to this point?
  11. Skeletons and Pretext: Sometimes companies try to cover up the “real” reason for termination and offer something that sounds plausible. Cover-ups usually unravel at very inopportune times, like with investigators and judges.
  12. Motivation to Organize: Terminations can impact on seeking representation for employees. Do all the factors guiding your decision and your company’s termination policies provide adequate “protection” against the perception of unfairness?
  13. Receptivity to Help: To what extent has assistance been offered and how has the employee responded? Has he demonstrated willingness to cooperate and improve? Is there evidence?
  14. Influence of Personal/External Difficulties: Are there any off-job problems which, in not being resolved, create or add to on-job performance?
  15. Track Record: Why consider termination now? Does the employee have a history or track record of problems or is this something new?
  16. Undeveloped Potential: Does the employee have potential for success in another job or part of the company? Working for a different supervisor?
  17. Pre-termination Conference: Having followed the pre-termination warning and gotten nowhere, have you talked with the employee and given full hearing to his/her side of the situation? Assuming the stories differ significantly, have you accounted for why the differences exist?

The above are guidelines intended to help you in this area. It is not intended to be, nor is it, legal advice. You should consult an attorney on any specific legal problems that might come up with employee discharge.


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