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PAYDAY Workforce Solutions Blog

What You Need to Know Before Disciplining or Terminating an Employee

On May 1, 2019

The prospect of corrective action or termination makes a lot
of managers nervous. That’s understandable. For employees, being disciplined or
losing their job can be anything from moderately embarrassing to financially
devastating, but it’s rarely a happy occasion. For the employers, these actions
always come with some risk, and there are plenty of legal danger zones an
employer can end up in if corrective action isn’t done properly

Here are some tips from our HR Pros to help you avoid these
pitfalls and make corrective action productive for everyone:

  1. Everyone
    in the organization, but especially those responsible for disciplining or
    terminating employees, should understand exactly what the organization’s
    policies are.
    When policies aren’t clear or people don’t understand them,
    their enforcement can become inconsistent and subject to bias. In these
    circumstances, discipline and termination will appear unfair. Worse, they may
    open the organization up to costly discrimination claims. 
  2. Managers
    should follow consistent disciplinary practices.
    Management meetings are a
    good time for the leadership team to make sure they’re using the same practices
    for discipline and termination. Inconsistencies in the organization, as noted
    above, can lead to allegations of discrimination.
  3. Investigate
    allegations before you act on them.
    Sometimes, in a rush to correct
    wrongdoing or poor performance, a manager will discipline an employee after
    hearing only one side of the story. For example, a restaurant customer
    complains about rude service, and the server is immediately terminated and
    given no chance to explain what happened from their point of view. Such adverse
    actions tell employees they can be penalized even if they do nothing wrong,
    causing them to feel resentment, fear, and distrust. And the manager can find
    themselves in an awkward termination meeting if the terminated employee can
    prove then and there that they didn’t do what they were accused of doing.
  4. Written
    warnings are best drafted by the manager and reviewed by HR.
    An employee’s
    manager often has firsthand knowledge of an infraction or unacceptable
    performance, so they’re in the best position to draft the written warning. HR
    can collaborate with the manager by reviewing the warning, ensuring that it is
    factual, unemotional, thorough, clear, tied to a company policy, and consistent
    with how others have been given written warnings previously.
  5. Corrective
    action is best done by the employee’s direct manager.
    When corrective
    action is delivered by the manager, it tells the employee that the manager is
    invested in the employee’s success and is willing to help the employee improve.
    Leaving corrective action to HR tells employees that they’re “someone else’s
    problem” and that their manager may not be fully vested in the company’s
    policies and practices. It also creates an unnecessarily adversarial
    relationship between employees and HR, which can undermine HR’s ability to make
    positive, company-wide changes.
  6. During a
    disciplinary meeting, a witness can help document what was said and done as
    well as provide logistical details.
    Not every disciplinary meeting needs a
    witness, though, especially if the issue is a minor one, or it’s a first
    conversation about performance issues. In these cases, whether to have a
    witness present can be left to each manager’s discretion. A witness is more
    useful for a meeting that is likely to escalate, either due to the nature of
    the issue or discipline, or the temper of the employee.
  7. Fairness
    and courtesy can go a long way, even when termination is necessary.
    No
    termination meeting will be pleasant, but they’re often more unpleasant than
    they need to be. Good practices here include being honest and clear about the
    reason for termination; not relying on being an “at will” employer to avoid
    telling the employee why they’re being let go (they’ll generally assume the
    worst), and holding the meeting privately and at the end of the day so that the
    employee can clean out their desk and exit the workplace without an audience.
    Whatever a manager can do to help the employee leave with their dignity intact
    will be helpful in preventing future issues with the now-former employee.
  8. Discipline
    and termination can be in the employee’s best interest—allowing bad behavior
    and poor performance to go on unaddressed does them no favors.
    If an
    employee isn’t doing a good job and is unable or unwilling to improve, they’re
    not helping the employer, their teammates, or themselves by staying in the
    organization. Chances are good that they’d be more successful and happier doing
    something else for someone else. And that’s okay!

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