Originally created 10/02/00

Brannen: Warning signs can help transition



Losing a job is near the top of the list of devastating events, as are death and divorce. For many people, their job partially defines who they are and provides a sense of personal worth.

Termination can result from poor job performance, misconduct or rule violations. Jobs can also be eliminated when an organization faces economic difficulties or because of duplication from mergers or buyouts.

Discharged employees want various outcomes, including good references, another job as soon as possible, or a severance package with pay or benefits coverage.

Those terminated because of illegal discrimination might seek compensatory or punitive damages. Some may want their job back, others could long for revenge. Whatever the desired outcome, the chances of success can be enhanced by anticipating and preparing for the termination.

Most terminations are preceded by signs such as a change in attitude by your supervisor and other employees, being left out of meetings and off the information circulation list, or a sudden lack of response to your memos, phone calls or e-mail.

A feeling something is going on may be either a vivid imagination or a touch of paranoia, unless there has been a recent unfavorable performance evaluation, discipline warning, or denial of a raise or promotion. These signs may also have meaning if the organization is in financial difficulty or is restructuring from a merger or buyout.

When signs and circumstances point to termination, immediately gather information and documentation to challenge the termination, negotiate a better severance package, or file an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint or wrongful discharge suit. Access to documentation is easier as an employee than as a former employee.

Gather all correspondence and records relating to your employment and performance, especially those that are positive, including letters, memos and e-mail. Make a list of favorable comments of you and your work from customers, coworkers, or managers including date, time, place and witnesses.

Document noteworthy successes such as major programs or projects. Any information supporting the efficiency or effectiveness of your position is useful in challenging the elimination of your job.

Object in writing, at the time it occurs, to any adverse employment decision such as a disciplinary action, poor evaluation, or denial of a raise or a promotion. Waiting until the termination occurs can be construed disgruntled former employee desperately trying to save his job.

Keep a record of comments and events, promises made, and similar information regarding how other terminated employees were treated previously.

If appropriate, discreetly seek the assistance of a competent employment attorney before the discharge.

Move personal records to your home, because an employer could notify you of discharge, escort you to your office, and limit what you can take as you depart. Be careful not to take company property or confidential documents because you could be accused of theft or rule violations.

You should start looking for another job before termination, because it is easier to get a job when you have a job, and you will have more bargaining power for salary and benefits. Also, you will not have to explain a firing to a prospective employer.

If firing is imminent, do not assume it is best to resign. Leaving voluntarily may have the effect of weakening your position for damage claims or severance benefits.

Pride, anger and embarrassment may be compelling forces to noisily tell bosses what to do with their job. In the end, however, it is usually better to quietly profit than to loudly pout.

Dalton Brannen is a senior professional in human resources and a professor of management in the College of Business Administration at Augusta State University.