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What to do when letting an employee go

I recently had a conversation with a gentleman who asked me if I have any advice for him on how he should handle “laying off” or “letting go” an employee.  I remembered a two part articles series we published in our forum that would be perfect for him to read. I showed him how to access the articles.  After he read the articles he said I should be sure others are aware of the information that is in these articles. The following sections are taken from a two part article series that includes valuable information about lay-off and for cause situations.

“You™re Fired” (part 1): The Lay-off

Your communication should be short, concise and clear, and it should include certain components: (1) A statement that the employee™s position has been eliminated, and no suitable alternative job is available; (2) A statement emphasizing that the reduction in force is a financial decision and is not a reflection of the employee™s performance or any other personal factors. Decisions were made based on finances and workload coverage; and (3) An explanation of any benefits, vacation time accrued, severance, and date of termination. However, in this conversation, don™t do the following: (1) Don™t mention other employees™ situations, position, age, race, seniority; (2) Don™t talk about the fairness of the decision or say anything other than supportive comments, such as “I know this is upsetting”; and (3) Don™t deviate from the script or engage in additional dialogue. Finally, just listen. If the employee expresses concern about discrimination, for example, pay close attention, take notes, and be sure to follow up.

Do™s for the HR Manager

  • Review relevant policies beforehand (performance expectations, workplace conduct, discipline, termination);
  • Research! Personnel files, emails, supervisor™s satellite files, comparator information, etc.;
  • Stay current on the laws;
  • Seek additional legal advice if you™re unsure or if the situation is potentially litigious; think protected categories, protected activity, public policy;
  • Enlist a third party in potentially litigious meetings;
  • Ensure that benchmarks and behaviors are measurable;
  • Ensure that criteria are well-documented;
  • Ensure that the decision-making was fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory or retaliatory: including the impact;
  • Address employees one-on-one, in person;
  • Explain the criteria for the selection process;
  • Anticipate objections;
  • Listen, and make notes of comments and questions from the employee; and
  • Be sure that new managers or managers who have never handled this particular situation receive coaching and role-playing if necessary.

Don™ts for the HR Manager

  • Don™t forget the need to document, document, document;
  • Don™t be ambiguous or consider termination to be a negotiation;
  • Don™t neglect to understand the need to maintain composure (balance business needs and human compassion); and
  • Don™t deviate from the message.

“You™re Fired” (part two): For Cause

Being fired for cause is handled very differently than being fired in connection with a reduction in force. A layoff is a one-time event; a termination is a process. It requires documentation before the termination decision is made, documentation throughout the performance improvement plan period, and documentation at termination. Before any words are spoken: (1) review your practice™s policies and procedures regarding termination; and (2) examine and closely review your employee™s personnel file, performance appraisals and any other documentation regarding her performance. Recent positive glowing performance appraisals, high ratings, raises, and bonuses should give pause, and you should ensure that adequate documentation of sub-par performance exists. Your words must communicate that this situation is a result of unacceptable performance, not personality. For example, say, “You need to complete all daily call reports by 4 pm” not something more vague like “You never manage to get the daily reports in on time.” You must also relay your willingness for her to have an opportunity to improve. Your employee needs a timeline for completing her goals, and your communication needs to be clear that an inability or unwillingness to complete and sustain expected levels of performance will lead to her termination of employment. She needs to acknowledge her understanding of what™s expected of her, as well as the seriousness of the situation. Your communication in this situation can be a balancing act. Your other employees, who know from the office grapevine that your employee is “in hot water,” need to see that you are professional, respectful, and supportive during what is a difficult and awkward employment situation for everyone. Your communication, both oral and in writing, needs to support the performance plan: fair, balanced, accurate, and about the work. What Not to Say These conversations can be very awkward, which can result in a soft-pedaling of the basic message, such as:

  • “You need to do better …”
  • “This could be okay …”
  • “Sometimes, it seems like …”
  • “I get the feeling that you… “

Be straightforward. Be non-negotiable. Maintain composure and stick to the message. Awkward conversations are just one more HR headache. We™re talking about intermittent leave headaches; accommodation headaches; investigation headaches; training, interviewing, and attendance headaches to name just a few. In HR, if it™s not one thing, it™s another. And in a small department, it™s just that much tougher. Being your practice™s one-person HR department can give you a real sense of ownership, and there™s certainly never a dull moment. But many solo HR managers report high levels of stress, burnout, and frustration. And it™s easy to make compliance mistakes when you™re the only one fielding employee questions and complaints, handling the paperwork, and dealing with directives from above.

If you have any questions please don™t hesitate to contact one of our professional consultants.

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