Take the Right Steps When Terminating an Employee
By Jame Geathers, Consultant, Jame Geathers Consulting
As a small business owner, one of the most rewarding parts of your role is being able to create opportunities for and empowering others to provide for their families. But what happens when the individual you’ve extended an opportunity to isn’t working out?
For starters let’s look at why you should not terminate an employee. I know what you’re thinking, Georgia is an “at-will” state, I can fire them if I don’t like the color of their tie.
Well, that’s only half true. On one hand, if the tie violates your written dress code policy, then by all means take corrective measures. However, if the tie annoys you because it has a religious symbol on it and you have personal, negative opinions about that religion, hold off. That could be misconstrued as terminating the employee due to their religious beliefs and that is discrimination.
In fact, per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you can be accused of discrimination if you terminate some one based on the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, be sure to document everything, including the behavior that led to the termination and, most importantly, the policies that the employee is in violation of.
Having policies and key disciplinary details documented may help you avoid in being on the losing side of a Department of Labor (DOL) or EEOC complaint.
Now that your policies are in place and you’ve been documenting an employee’s absenteeism and tardiness, what do you do next? Prior to calling said employee into your office for “the talk,” there are a few documents that you will need.
First, if the employee is covered by company insurance it’s best to have the information that they will need regarding their coverage such as, ending date, if they are available for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and if they are, the cost to enroll. You’ll also want to provide details regarding their last paycheck and a separation notice – for Georgia that would be form DOL 800 and it can be found on the Georgia DOL website.
Once you’ve compiled all the documents and information that you will need to provide to the employee, now it’s time to call them in. This can be the trickiest part of termination an employee. If at all possible, never terminate an employee one on one; have another member of management present. But if you are the only member of management then don’t bring in another team member (non-management); that will only humiliate the employee.
While you may feel the need to beat around the bush and ease the employee into getting fired, don’t. That is simply delaying the inevitable and it’s cruel to give them false hope that they can change the outcome.
Once you have called them in, calmly and clearly explain the problem behavior, recall the warnings and/or corrective steps they’ve been given to correct the behavior, state the policies that have been violated and finally tell them that they are being terminated.
Once you have delivered the news, provide the employee with the documentation and information that you compiled prior to the meeting. At that time, you can spend a few minutes answering questions that the employee has but be careful not to engage too much.
Also avoid giving a letter or recommendation. Even if you think the employee is a great person but just not a good fit, a letter of recommendation could come back to haunt you in a wrongful termination claim.
At the conclusion of your conversation and after all badges and keys have been returned, the employee should be walked out of the building. I know it seems humiliating to walk someone out but being terminated can bring out the worst in some people and giving them the opportunity to go back to their desk or say goodbye to coworkers will only disrupt the rest of your team. To avoid the need for this, while you are meeting have a designated employee to quietly pack up the terminated employee’s personal items and have them waiting near the exit when the meeting is over.
I realize that the process of terminating an employee can seem like a monumental task but I assure you it’s not. With the right policies and processes in place you can make it as painless as possible. If you need assistance creating human resources policies or with DOL or EEOC complaints, please contact us!
Jame Geathers is a Human Resources and Operations Professional with more than 12 years of experience in both the corporate and non-profit sectors. Jame has spent her career building and supporting HR infrastructures that have provided her employers and clients with the structure and policies that all start-ups need but owners may not have time to create and implement. For more information please visit the Jame Geathers Consulting website, www.jamegeathers.com or call (706) 496-9691.