I am a firm believer in the idea of the concept of hiring slow and fire fast as the best way to select employees and the best way to protect your company in an employment relationship gone awry. You can read more here, here, here and here. However firing someone fast does not mean you do it stupidly.
Rules for terminating an employee
NEVER fire anyone on the spot. There is generally too much emotion wrapped up in firing someone on the spot. If you want to get them out of the building at that moment have them leave and come back the following day for a meeting. Get someone else involved that does not have the emotional investment that you have. In some cases that is HR, in some cases it is another manager, or it may even be a third party, such as an HR consultant.
Ask “How have we handled this in the past?” Are you being consistent? That does not mean you have to be consistent, after all every situation has a unique set of circumstances, but it could appear that you are treating this person differently because of some protected category.
Is this termination a surprise to the employee? If that is the case then rethink what you are doing. There should never be a surprise termination. You should have been counseling that employee, documenting performance and trying to change behavior. The employee needs to know what they have been doing wrong and what is expected of them to correct that problem. Without that documentation your reason for termination may appear arbitrary and discriminatory. Now granted there are some situations where a single offense of a rule is grounds for immediate termination (actually next day termination), but if employees know these rules then there is no surprise.
Make sure the reason for terminating someone is not a subtext for another reason. Have they made a claim of discrimination or harassment; complained about wages; taken a leave or taken too much leave; or complained about safety or some such activity? If they answer is “yes” then rethink what you are about to do. Firing someone for retaliation is as illegal as firing them due to discrimination. In fact retaliation claims are one of the fast growing areas of EEOC claims and one of the hardest to defend. So really look at why that person needs to be fired and look at who is doing the firing. In fact you may want to remove that person from the decision and have one or more independent evaluators make that decision.
Remember the employee, regardless of what they did, is a person. You should make every effort to treat them with dignity and professionalism. According to the Geneva Convention, even POWs are supposed to be treated with dignity. Look at how the reputations of those who did not treat people that way suffered. You don’t want to have the same fate. Focus on the behavior and performance in question and do not focus on them personally. Be private, be quiet and deal only with the facts. Don’t do what an employee called the “perp walk” of shame through the facility.
Protect yourself. Have two managers involved with the meeting and document what was said and done immediately afterwards. If for some reason you expect that the employee may be violent don’t hesitate to get security involved. Change passwords and computer access as quickly as possible. It is important to protect the company assets to the greatest extent possible. Lastly, if there is a great deal of difficulty with this; seek some outside help such as legal counsel.
I get asked all the time “Can’t we get rid of someone for any reason because we are an at-will employer?” EAW is not as bulletproof as people think it is. You cannot violate the law under the guise of EAW. It is called a “protected category” for a reason. EAW allows you to get rid of the person who is that toxic employee or the person that just does not have the get-up-and-go you would like to have in your company, but it does not give you a free hand without really investigating the underlying reasons for the termination.
In conclusion, none of this means that a termination has to go on forever. You do not want to let terminations linger. They are destructive and hurt morale. You do want to do them fast, in short time frames. You just want to avoid being stupid about it.
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