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The Pain of Termination

The high cost of a problem employee can be significant in terms of direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include compensation, legal fees, and other expenses related to their employment. Indirect costs include lost productivity due to decreased morale among other staff members and time spent addressing the issue that could otherwise have been used for more productive tasks. The impact on your organization's reputation with customers or clients may also be an unexpected hidden cost associated with problem employees.

It is essential to identify such individuals quickly and promptly address the issues to mitigate potential long-term damage. Taking action early can help to reduce the financial losses associated with keeping someone on board who is not meeting expectations. It is important to remember that proper documentation and a good decision-making process are vital elements when terminating an employee.


Some of the High-cost areas are:

  • Lawsuits

    • Current and former employees can bring in lawsuits

    • If you lose one, it could easily have a payout of hundreds of thousands of dollars or higher

  • Employee Turnover

    • If you ignore the problem employee or handle workplace problems ineffectively, you will have a retention problem.

    • Good employees will be forced to pick up the slack or have to put up with that employees abuse

  • Poor Morale

    • Problem employees can also drag down your good employees.

    • As coworkers watch the difficult employee "get away with" their behavior of mistreating, failing to perform, or breaking the rules, they will start to feel resentful and unappreciated.

    • Sometimes, the problem employee may even threaten your good employee(s).

    • In this case, you need to act quickly.

    • The poor morale spreads to all of your employees quickly, and in some cases, it can be near impossible to recover from.

Document, Document, Document

Ensure you and the employee are on the same page. Share the formal disciplinary documentation with the employee and get the employee's acknowledgment signature. While the employee may not agree that the corrective action was needed, you should be able to at least agree on the facts, such as what happened, when, and who was involved. Afterward, you can create an action plan.

Track the employee's disciplinary history. If you have a lot of employees or are dealing with repetitive problems, your records will help you remember what has already happened as you decide how to handle the current issue or follow-up. This includes the verbal coaching that occurs with an employee. They may not have a formal written document to sign, or that is placed in a file, but you need to make your own records to be sure you are accurate in each step with each employee.

Record all the disciplinary history for the company. No one stays in the same job forever. You may leave for another position while the employee remains. These records will help the incoming manager/supervisor in keeping the employee corrections consistent.

Treat employees consistently. To avoid accusations that you are playing favorites and avoid any form of discrimination case, you must handle employee problems consistently. You do not want the employee to feel unfairly targeted for any other reason than the problem being addressed. Your documentation will help you deal with the current problem employee and others. When you can review past courses of action, you can ensure you are not treating another employee differently and ensure that the actions are justified and not an overreaction or downplaying an issue.

Track problems on the entire team. As you document corrective actions, you may discover a pattern in special teams. There may be safety violations, unclear responsibility, or even a sexual harassment problem that may not be visible at first without the documentation to show the patterns of behavior.

Document immediately. The best documentation is created at the time the incident occurs. You may not always be able to record conversations as they are happening. Still, you need to record the meeting immediately after so that you have a better recollection of what transpired. If you wait too long, it's easier to remember a few details, especially when you are juggling a lot of different issues or responsibilities at once. Another vital reason to create an immediate written record is to avoid the suspicion that you are trying to develop "trumped-up" charges against the employee.

Be objective. Everything you write should be factual and objective. Personnel records are not a place for speculation, or unfounded conclusions, or personal opinions. I have seen records that literally have the statement," There is no evidence of the event occurring, but I feel that it may have happened." If you are writing down what you think has happened and not what has actually happened, then you are off track.

Now that example seems obvious not to make, but these mistakes are easier than you think. For example, if an employee yelled or cried in a meeting, you might want to write down they appeared angry or sad. This is concluding. Instead, you need to write down what the employee did, not what you thought it meant about his or her feelings or state of mind.

Be thorough. When you document corrective action, you create a record for later use. That record should include the important facts: what happened, when, where, and so on. Of course, managers need more time to write a novel every time an employee shows up late for work or misses a production goal. But leaving out essential details can create significant headaches down the road:

  • You might not remember exactly what happened later (for example, if you have to intervene again or review the employee's file to draft a performance appraisal).

  • If the employee begins working for another manager, that manager won't know all of the facts.

  • You'll be in trouble if you ever have to justify your actions to higher-ups in the company or in court. You'll either forget what actually happened, or you'll have to say, "This important thing happened, but for some reason, I forgot to put it in my notes." Even if you can remember the incident, it will look less credible if you didn't record it when it occurred.


Take Away the Element of Surprise

When you consider whether to fire an employee, picture yourself breaking the news to the employee. What reaction do you imagine the worker will have? If your answer includes the word "surprised," proceed with caution- chances are that you have not done everything you should to protect yourself from a lawsuit. A worker will not be surprised by the possibility of termination if you publicize your workplace policies widely (so your workers know what is expected of them); give fair, accurate, and regular performance evaluations; and follow your progressive discipline policy consistently.

A worker who is genuinely surprised by a firing discussion is one who was not aware of company policy, did not understand that his or her behavior was falling short of your expectations, or did not think the company would enforce its own rules. A worker should know there is a problem well before receiving an early dismissal.

An employee who knows that his or her behavior or conduct is inappropriate and has been allowed to improve is more likely to accept termination without incident. After all, the employee has been on notice of the problems and may even have taken steps to find another job. In contrast, an employee surprised to be terminated is more likely to harbor anger and vengeful feelings toward the employer- which in turn makes lawsuits and even workplace violence possible.

In conclusion, terminations are complex, uncomfortable, and necessary. At Higher Design, we are here to help you. Give us a call, and we can help you in this challenging situation and make sure you are compliant in your process and aware of the termination aftermath.

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