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Opinion Editorials

The complete guide to terminating an employee, remaining human, and protecting your company

(BUSINESS NEWS) Employee terminations are never a pleasant task, but they are a necessary one.

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It’s part of the job

Let’s face it: no one likes firing an employee, but we all know that it has to be done when the circumstances call for it. When that time comes, how do we do so effectively and in a way that preserves both the integrity and safety of the company with the dignity of the soon-to-be former employee?

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Make your case

Before you consider terminating an employee, study up. Make certain that you’re familiar with your employee handbook, your company policies, and applicable employment laws. This isn’t an act that you should do alone if you can avoid doing so. Reviewing your firm’s employment policies and their interaction with federal, state, and local laws with a qualified employment lawyer and/or your human resources staff can save you much time and heartache down the road.

While D.L. Roth may have once said, “You know you’ve made it when you can spell subpoena without thinking about it,” protracted battles with ex-employees can be expensive and time-consuming. This is true even of at-will employees in right-to-work states, such as Texas. An at-will employee is one whose employment can be ended for any reason, or no reason, as long as it is not an illegal reason.

Age discrimination? Yep, illegal reason. Gender discrimination? Same story, unless gender is a Bona-Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ). Terminated for absenteeism during a USERRA or FMLA leave? Probably, but many shades of grey exist there. Even the prima facie appearance of a termination decision based on a prohibited reason can be time consuming to defend against.

So, does this mean that you should avoid terminating any employees who may fall into a protected class? Not at all.

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After the review of your company policies, review the employee’s disciplinary history. The documentation that exists in their employee file will be the basis for which you make your decision for which you can defend yourself, if the need arises.

You’re looking for the point where the employee’s behavior or lack of performance have run afoul of company policy and can cite that violation of expected standards to them as a way to defend your decision.

In law school, there’s a way of thinking about cases popularly known as the “IRAC” method: Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. You can apply that here: the employee’s behavior is the issue, and the company policy is the rule, with application and conclusion being next steps in the termination process.

Documentation is king

If policy changes or ongoing employee performance problems haven’t been documented in writing, consider whether or not now is the right time to terminate the employee. It’s an old maxim — without documentation, it didn’t happen. If you or your front-line managers aren’t in the habit of documenting employee discipline and performance concerns in a timely fashion, you need to address that first.

It doesn’t look good if you’re making the claim that your employee has had Problem X for the past six months, but all of the disciplinary documentation you’ve provided them is from only the past week, in a last minute effort to throw together something. It’s better to take a step back and clean up your processes first. This is also a good point to review what remediation steps you’ve offered an employee to improve their performance, especially if the problem is an ongoing one.

Remember, you’re not just taking care of a performance or behavior issue at your office. You’re also gravely impacting the entirety of someone’s life and livelihood.

That gravity doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t act, but it does mean that you need to be fair and just throughout the process.

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State your case

Once a review of company policy, the employee’s performance and behavioral history, and any remediative steps have justified the decision to terminate employment, it’s time to schedule the meeting. If your company has an HR business partner, have them there; you’re doing the firing, though. It’s your decision, and HR is there to handle the exiting process for the employee, with the inevitable questions that will arise, as well as to serve as witness in case of litigation later.

Experts differ on whether people should be fired early in the week or late in the week, and whether or not the meeting should be held in your office or the employee’s private workspace, if they have one. In reality, these decisions vary by workspace. Take into account that you want to treat the employee with dignity and privacy as you transition.

The meeting should be direct and to the point; fifteen minutes is a long time when there’s only one message being delivered, and a prolonged conversation isn’t going to change anyone’s minds about the outcome.

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When the employee sits down, they well may wonder why HR is there as well. It’s best to acknowledge their presence in the room, and let the employee know that you’re all there today to review the status of their employment. When transitioning to the discussion of performance or behavior, be direct and clear about the types of problems that have occurred, the length of time, severity of the behaviors, and any remediative steps that have been provided. Doing so allows the employee to understand that you have been dealing with ongoing concerns for some time that have not improved, or that their behavior, even if only a one time occurrence, was so severe that you had to address it in this fashion.

After the review of performance, you’ve now got to tell the employee that, based on this behavior, or lack of improvement, their employment has been terminated, effective today.

Be prepared to experience a gamut of emotions from the employee: shock, anger, denial, disbelief, bargaining for another chance.

You may well be empathetic to the employee’s circumstance; I know that I’ve been when in this position. However, empathy aside, now is the time for what I refer to as “kind clarity”. You’re using precise language, so as not to confuse the employee or to give them the false impression that there’s another avenue at this point. While not belaboring the point of every violation of rules that they committed, you’re also remaining steadfast to their performance issues. It’s natural, when faced with a strong emotional reaction from the employee, to want to minimize the problems that existed that led to their termination.

While it’s tempting to want to console an upset employee, overly kind words that seem dismissive of their problem today may be used as evidence tomorrow. You can go into broken record mode when an employee disagrees with the decision: “I acknowledge your position, but the decision is final.” And, while it’s understandable that you’d possibly be emotional as well, don’t say that this decision is difficult for you. That’s not going to make anyone in the room feel better, most especially the now ex-employee.

Once the termination has been delivered, utilize the skills of your HR business partner, if possible, to answer the expected questions about benefits, pay, references, unemployment claims, etc. If your company is upscaling and doesn’t have a dedicated HR department, think about all of the questions that you would have in a similar circumstance, and be prepared to answer them.

Provide the employee with a point of contact for any questions or needs that come up after the meeting is ended, and make certain that that point of contact provides them with the same high level of customer service that you would expect for any employee.

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Transition forward

At the conclusion of the meeting, escort your former employee to pick up their essential belongings and then directly off property. Even for employees for whom there is no expected risk of becoming violent or disruptive in the workplace, you want to protect your team against any unnecessary distraction of a visibly upset colleague who may have been popular among them.

For employees who have a large amount of personal property, allowing them to come back after hours when you or your HR partner can observe them packing is kinder than asking them to do it in front of an audience of their former colleagues. You’ll also want to provide notice of the termination to your IT department to have e-mail and other proprietary technology shut off at the time of termination. This avoids the risk of the former employee sending out any messaging that would be harmful to the company as a “parting gift”.

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After the employee has been terminated, the work goes on. You’ll want to maintain the employee’s privacy and confidentiality as you transition their projects to other team members and, eventually, interview for their replacement. Maintaining the same levels of empathy and reassurance with them as they transition without their co-worker, as well as rolling up your sleeves to take on some of the additional workload if necessary, will ensure that the mission goes forward.

#FireRight

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Business Finance

How to survive a recession in the modern economy

(OPINION EDITORIAL) Advice about surviving a recession is common these days, but its intended audience can leave a large gap in application.

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There’s no question of whether or not we’re in a recession right now, and while some may debate the severity of this recession in comparison to the last major one, there are undoubtedly some parallels–something Next Avenue’s Elizabeth White highlights in her advice on planning for the next few months (or years).

Among White’s musings are actionable strategies that involve forecasting for future layoffs, anticipating age discrimination, and swallowing one’s ego in regards to labor worth and government benefits like unemployment.

White isn’t wrong. It’s exceptionally important to plan for the future as much as possible–even when that plan undergoes major paradigm shifts a few times a week, at best–and if you can reduce your spending at all, that’s a pretty major part of your planning that doesn’t necessarily have to be subjected to those weekly changes.

However, White also approaches the issue of a recession from an angle that assumes a few things about the audience–that they’re middle-aged, relatively established in their occupation, and about to be unemployed for years at a time. These are, of course, completely reasonable assumptions to make…but they don’t apply to a pretty large subset of the current workforce.

We’d like to look at a different angle, one from which everything is a gig, unemployment benefits aren’t guaranteed, and long-term savings are a laughable concept at best.

White’s advice vis-a-vis spending is spot-on–cancelling literally everything you can to avoid recurring charges, pausing all non-essential memberships (yes, that includes Netflix), and downgrading your phone plan–it’s something that transcends generational boundaries.

In fact, it’s even more important for this generation than White’s because of how frail our savings accounts really are. This means that some of White’s advice–i.e., plan for being unemployed for years–isn’t really feasible for a lot of us.

It means that taking literally any job, benefit, handout, or circumstantial support that we can find is mandatory, regardless of setbacks. It means that White’s point of “getting off the throne” isn’t extreme enough–the throne needs to be abolished entirely, and survival mode needs to be implemented immediately.

We’re not a generation that’s flying all over the place for work, investing in real estate because it’s there, and taking an appropriate amount of paid time off because we can; we’re a generation of scrappy, gig economy-based, paycheck-to-paycheck-living, student debt-encumbered individuals who were, are, and will continue to be woefully unprepared for the parameters of a post-COVID world.

If you’re preparing to be unemployed, you’re recently unemployed, or you even think you might undergo unemployment at some point in your life, start scrapping your expenses and adopt as many healthy habits as possible. Anything goes.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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