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"You're Fired" (part 2): For Cause

Scenario: Your employee has been with the company for two years. Despite supervisory training and coaching on her performance and the company's expectations, her performance remains sub-par. Her repeated mistakes and lack of productivity are affecting the rest of the department, both in effectiveness and morale. Unless this situation changes, her employment needs to be terminated.

Being fired for a 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 vaguer 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. 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 is 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, need 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 are talking about intermittent leave headaches; accommodation headaches; investigation headaches; training, interviewing, and attendance headaches to name just a few. In HR, if it is not one thing, it is another. In a small department, it is just that much tougher.

Being your practice's one-person HR department can give you a real sense of ownership, and there is certainly never a dull moment. Many solo HR managers report high levels of stress, burnout, and frustration. It is 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.