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chapter 27

Inevitably, you are going to be faced with the need to terminate someone working for you. While you owe it to your people to give them coaching and support to help them perform their jobs, there comes a time when you know you must make a change for the overall well-being of both your work group and the organization. Act decisively and do not procrastinate in dealing with these situations.
When you first assume responsibility for supervising any group of people, you should ensure that everyone clearly understands that certain types of behavior are grounds for immediate dismissal, such as sexual harassment, taking illegal drugs or alcohol at work, or committing any hostile or intimidating acts towards a co-worker, supervisor or any other third party. If your organization lacks an official policy on these “one strike and you’re out” matters, urge it to formulate one.
Consult your organization’s human resources or legal department whenever you are facing the likelihood of having to terminate an associate. Make certain that you follow the necessary termination steps and procedures to avoid exposing yourself and your organization to any wrongful dismissal lawsuits.
Addressing Poor Performance
The best way to address poor performance issues with anyone is to meet with the person in private, explain your concerns in a candid and factual manner, and say you are giving the individual another opportunity to correct the situation. It is always mandatory for you to document in writing what was discussed in this meeting and give a dated copy of this “first notice” to the person concerned.
If the person’s unsatisfactory performance persists, hold another meeting and give the individual a “second notice”, again documented and dated in writing. This time make it clear you will have no choice but to terminate the person if there is no improvement in his or her performance. Terminate the individual if there is no correction in his or her performance after two warnings but again document in writing the reasons for the termination. Afterwards, you may have to prove in court that you had well-documented business reasons for terminating this person.
The time period between the first and second notice and between the second notice and termination depends on the type of work involved. Clearly, the individual should be given a reasonable opportunity to correct his or her performance. On the other hand, it is a mistake to prolong this process unnecessarily.
Some people may have a great deal to offer your organization but are currently in a position that does not suit them. In these cases, try to find another position for them in your organization where they can do a better job.
If you discover someone on your TEAM has an alcohol or drug abuse problem, you have to make the person understand that a condition of retaining his or her job is successfully dealing with that problem. In most cases, that is going to require obtaining professional help. Offer your assistance and support but remember the chances of someone “curing” such a problem on a permanent basis are not high. Again, involve a representative of the human resources department in any meeting on this subject.
In the case of performance-related terminations, there is a natural tendency to repeatedly give a person the benefit of the doubt. As a result, you wait too long to replace someone, regardless of having more than sufficient supporting evidence. Inevitably, shortly after you finally do terminate such a person, you realize you actually should have done so many months earlier. Delaying taking the necessary action sends a message to your other TEAM members that sub-par performance is acceptable when it definitely is not.
Often, the individual concerned has known for some time he or she is ill-suited for the job but does not know what to do about it or just wants to keep the job. If you have been conducting the proper quarterly performance reviews with this individual, your intention to terminate that person should not come as a surprise.
The reality is it is in the best interests of both the associate involved and your organization to face facts and deal with the situation as soon as it becomes apparent. Procrastination never helps the situation. In a certain way, you are doing the employee a favor by freeing them up to find a job that is better suited to his or her capabilities.
The Termination Meeting
In the case of meetings with any associate that may lead to termination, it is always a good idea to ask either a representative of the human resources department or another member of management to join you for the meeting to have a witness to what is being said. If you are a male and are holding such a meeting with a female associate, ask a female member of the human resources department or manager to sit in on your meeting. Female supervisors should take the same approach by involving a male “partner” in any such meetings with a male associate.
Any discussions with an associate regarding termination must be held in private. Refrain from going into a long, involved explanation for your decision as the person will not hear most of what you are saying except that he or she is being fired. Be firm and state you have made a decision to terminate the person and this decision is final. Express your regrets in a sensitive, respectful manner and attempt to convey it is actually in the person’s best interests to find another position that better suits him or her. Do not get into an argument over your decision. Try to end the meeting within 10 to 15 minutes.
Hold the termination meeting on a Monday or Tuesday. Avoid terminating someone on “sensitive” dates, such as on his or her birthday, anniversary or religious holidays. Make every possible effort to help the person “save face” and retain his or her self-esteem. Keep the termination meeting professional and refrain from commenting on personal qualities and the employee’s work history. Advise the associate on what your human resource department can do to help him or her find a job elsewhere.
In virtually every case, it is best the associate being terminated ceases work following being told of the decision. Leaving such a person on the job for any length of time is never a good idea. The associate’s job performance will be poor, which will adversely affect everyone else’s morale. Arrange for someone to accompany the person terminated when he or she picks up any personal affects from the office or work area after-hours or on a weekend.
When you terminate an associate, you need to advise the person about the financial severance package he or she is entitled to receive, depending on the circumstances. In many countries, such severance payments are specified by law depending upon the person’s length of service. Check beforehand with your organization’s human resources or legal department to verify you are offering the required severance payment. Otherwise, you should consult with an employment lawyer.
It is always necessary to ensure you have legal grounds for termination in order to reduce the risk of a wrongful dismissal claim. If there is any ambiguity in this regard, you will have to negotiate a severance package with the employee in return for his or her “resignation”.
Occasionally, an individual will come to you and say he or she wants to resign and leave the organization. If you regard this person highly, you may want to attempt to talk him or her out of this decision when the reason for the resignation relates to an internal matter. Often, this happens when someone wants to put pressure on you to do something about “a problem in the organization”. If this individual comes to you on a second occasion and expresses a desire to resign again, you are almost always better off accepting the resignation and finding a replacement. Individuals who have “decided” to resign more than once are usually not really committed to their organization.
Exit Interviews
Adopt the practice of always conducting an exit interview with anyone resigning from your TEAM or organization. Use a standard exit interview form to document the answers to these questions:
  • What prompted your decision to resign?
  • What were the most positive aspects of your experience with our organization?
  • What were the most frustrating aspects of your experience with our organization?
  • If you could change anything at our organization, what would you change?
  • Do you have any other recommendations or comments that you would like to make?
  • Do I have your permission to share these comments with others in our organization?
The purpose of exit interviews is to identify any critical areas of concern and issues that need to be addressed. The person conducting the exit interview needs to be a “good listener” and refrain from getting into an argument over what is being said.
Whenever anyone resigns or is terminated, make every reasonable effort to have that person leave on as good a basis as is possible, thinking he or she was treated fairly and properly by yourself and your organization. Obviously, this is not always achievable.


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