The Unicorn HRO Blog

Advice and Counsel for taking such Adverse Actions as Termination

Posted Friday, June 19, 2015 by Unicorn HRO

A common question asked by Human Resource departments and managers is what to do when faced with an employee who is not working out well within the organization? One of the most effective approaches that an organization can take is to plan in advance by developing clear guidelines detailing how they will manage the termination, suspension process, and use of disciplinary methods with staff, should the need arise. This is particularly important as it helps to ensure that the organization is compliant with their legal and ethical responsibilities. These guidelines should include specific steps that managers must take before reaching a decision to implement suspension, disciplinary actions, or termination, and they should also document the ways in which managers have attempted to improve their employees’ work, using progressively intense and detailed feedback. 

Using regular performance management reviews and careful observation of employees’ work helps managers to identify those staff members who are not performing well or who are not a good fit for the organization. When this happens, it is vital that a manager communicates their observation to the staff member as soon as possible, including detailed feedback and providing the employee with an opportunity to improve their performance. Managers often develop a Performance Improvement Plan or PIP with the staff member detailing which specific areas of work require improvement, how progress towards specific goals will be measured, and the time lines in which an improvement must be seen. Managers should also be knowledgeable on the type of supports and interventions that they can use to help employees to achieve the goals listed within the PIP, including identifying skill deficits, linking staff with training, and increasing supervision through more regular performance reviews.

An important part of this process is for both managers and HR departments to clearly document the intermediary steps they have taken to improve staff performance including the employee’s response, particularly their failure to improve. This documentation provides clear supporting evidence which can be used later on to support decisions to terminate or suspend staff. Documentation is particularly important when working with a staff member who has had a recent workers compensation claim or FMLA, to which separate criteria and guidelines exist. For example, an employee cannot fire somebody who is on FMLA leave and rules regarding termination and workers compensation also vary by state; meaning HR departments should be knowledgeable about state specific guidelines. 

To instigate a termination process, employers should begin progressive disciplinary action which may include providing employees with the opportunity to quit. Companies should also consult with an attorney when needed to ensure that they adhere to legal guidelines in order to prevent litigation and legal ramifications in the future. Similar strategic processes and documentation is required for decisions to use disciplinary action or to suspend an employee. Typically these processes also require the use of an outreach letter detailing the reasons for management’s decision, providing specific examples, including the dates and times for poor performance, and the type of disciplinary action or the duration of the suspension period. It is important to note that the organizational guidelines should be standardized and apply to all employees to prevent unfavorable treatment or discrimination of employees.

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