Parting Without Sweet Sorrow

Terminating an employee is never pleasant, but the process can be greatly eased with pre-planning and preventive measures.

October 24, 2000

One of the most difficult tasks for any employer, dismissing employees is hard on both ends. Several preparations on the employer's part can make the process as painless as possible, however, and bring the added benefit of protecting the employer against possible termination lawsuits. According to The Flood Co., an Ohio-based paint manufacturer, the following precautions make this unpleasant confrontation much more bearable:

  • Write an employee handbook. Having a written outline of company policies and firing procedures makes it easier to confront employees. Remember that if your handbook states that warnings will be given before employees are terminated, that step must be taken before you can dismiss an employee. Written policies help both employees and employers act responsibly.

  • Know the contract. Unions and collective bargaining agreements often outline guidelines for firing employees. You must take care to know and follow all the terms when determining what circumstances allow for termination. To avoid the assumption that an employee fulfilling the duties of the job won't be fired, you should specify the grounds for dismissal in the contract.

  • Communicate. Keeping open lines of communication can help prevent the need to dismiss an employee. Employees should be continuously aware of their performance quality, and offering them the opportunity to correct problems can relieve problems before they become unsolvable.

  • Document employee histories. By keeping a written record of employee performance, it can be easier to evaluate progress as well as explain the need for dismissal. Poor evaluations, failed attempts to remedy problems and disregarded meetings all indicate problems and can be documented easily.

  • Determine your own policies. Organize and outline a series of guidelines you as an employer will use when disciplining and terminating employees. Clearly outline any company policies, especially any state or personal "at-will" employment. At-will employment means the employer or employee can end a working relationship at any time for any or no reason, but it's important that both employer and employee are aware of this policy at the beginning of employment, not the end.
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