HR Insights with Ali: No Termination without Documentation
Posted on 11/17/2016 by Ali Oromchian, Esq.
Why termination can be so difficult. It makes sense that when we hire on new employees, the thought of firing them is often the furthest thing from our minds. After all, if you were hiring a new team member with the expectation that you would one day have to fire him, then he likely was not a good choice in the first place. However, it is this overly-optimistic approach that we take to new hires which can get us into trouble down the line. When you are faced with the prospect of terminating an employee, you’ll often find yourself wishing that you had prepared for this scenario a little sooner.
The truth is that terminating someone - especially someone you had a direct hand in hiring - is extremely unpleasant. In fact, most practitioners admit to giving even “problem” employees as many chances as possible, simply to avoid having to engage in the termination process. But as professionals, we know that simply seeking to avoid doing something we find unpleasant often leads to unhealthy business practices. One of those practices is the absence of adequate documentation in support of firing an employee.
Early and frequent documentation saves time and money in the long run. The good news is that you can remedy this problem going forward by adopting the practice of documenting all issues, concerns and even all communications relevant to the expectations placed upon (and the performances of) your staff. For example, one of your very first communications with a new employee should be a piece of documentation which could be used to support the position that expectations are conveyed to all employees clearly and effectively: your employee handbook. It should discuss (at a minimum) the general performance level required by your staff (showing up to work on time, for example) as well as a clear statement regarding the consequences of not meeting such performance standards.
For termination documentation, consistency is key. From that point forward, you should document any and all performance or other issues associated with each employee, including the date and time of what happened, what took place and why it was in violation of company policy, the names and titles of any witnesses present, as well as a summary of what was said to the employee and by whom. It is also helpful if you can give a copy of this summary to the employee along with a clear statement that such actions are unacceptable and what will happen if the behavior is not changed and by when. Having the employee provide a signature to show receipt of this document is helpful, as well.
Allowing errant staff members to burden their co-workers by not doing their jobs is unfair to those members of your staff who perform as required. Plus, the more you document behavioral issues, the more supported you will be if (and/or when) termination becomes inevitable. The stronger your documentation, the more likely you will be to terminate an employee when it truly becomes the best option to ensure the continued success of your practice. And such decisions, while unpleasant, truly are best for your business and its employees.