The most important decision managers make is hiring employees. The most disturbing is firing employees.
Whether it is called termination, discharge, dehiring or layoff, it is unpleasant and always disruptive.
Employees are terminated for three reasons: poor performance, misconduct or because they are no longer needed.
Firing an employee for poor performance is usually the result of a management failure in that the wrong person was hired or they were not properly trained, evaluated or disciplined.
Termination for misconduct such as theft, violence or rule violations is the employee's fault.
Downsizing or reorganizations occur when jobs are no longer needed or when employees' current knowledge, skills or abilities cannot be utilized effectively. These cases are unfortunate because circumstances, not managers or employees, are to blame.
Jobs are important because they provide money for our basic needs and wants. They contribute to the enjoyment of life and often define who we are. Therefore, losing a job carries a serious emotional impact, as might dire illness, death or divorce.
Given the importance of jobs, a significant number of employment laws and workplace legalities exist. Some believe these laws limit miscreant employers from mistreating hapless employees, while others feel they strip fair employers of their right to manage the workplace for the good of the organization.
Managers not only have to make and follow through with the difficult decision to terminate, they may also have to contend with baseless allegations and threats of legal actions for wrongful discharge.
Some contend this helps keep employers honest. Others counter this hampers good managers and ultimately costs everyone. While both statements are true to some extent, for the most part managers do right by their employees. Still, they must proceed with care and caution when terminating.
Managers make several mistakes that provide fertile ground for lawsuits. One is firing for the wrong reason. Termination is a business decision that should be made in the best interests of the organization, not for revenge or personal whimsy.
It is not advisable to fire on the spot, even if the employee is dangerous, drunk or caught stealing. Instead, immediately suspend and remove the offender and conduct a proper investigation. The extra cooling-off time allows you to consult with others and follow company policy and the law.
Allowing employees to resign rather than face discharge may seem humane, but it could send the wrong message to others about proper behavior and performance.
Be mindful of the timing of a firing. If possible, take no action around the time of military, maternity or convalescent leave from a work injury. Taking action in December or after a death, birth or illness are looked at unfavorably regardless of how warranted the termination may be.
Another common mistake is terminating employees for poor work performance when they are unaware their performance is inadequate. This is the fault of managers who do not communicate this information in day-to-day contact and in periodic performance evaluations. It is difficult to defend a wrongful discharge claim when an employee's personnel file shows satisfactory evaluations.
Some employers avoid frivolous wrongful discharge claims by not terminating underperforming employees. This nonsense is similar to ignoring a curable disease until it becomes incurable, and others have been infected.