Takeoffs and landings are the most dangerous part of an airline flight. The same is true when it comes to employment law. Hirings and (even more so) firings are the biggest flash points for employee lawsuits.
Just one mistake in the termination process – a discipline error, a documentation slip-up or the wrong words on the way out the door – can lead to crippling litigation. Plus, you have to deal with the emotional fallout … risk of violence … and co-worker response.
The actually termination meeting is your biggest risk. Here are 5 tips to conduct a stress-free, liability-free meeting (we’ll bring you five more in our next LEAP Letter):
1. BE PREPARED. Review the facts ahead of time to make sure the decision was sound. Document legitimate business reasons supporting the action. Make sure the termination won’t breach any contractual obligations, and that people closest to the situation will confirm the underlying facts. Prepare a meeting script so that if emotions become raw, you can stay on message and cover all the issues that need to be addressed.
2. DETERMINE THE BEST TIME & PLACE. Losing a job is stressful. Don’t add to the employee’s embarrassment by meeting where others might see or hear what’s going on. Schedule the meeting at a private location where there will be no interruptions. If the employee becomes angry or argumentative, you may need to get up and leave once you’ve communicated the decision. For that reason, don’t use your own office.
3. CAN YOU GET A WITNESS? It’s always best to have another company official present. That way, the employee will have less opportunity to make false accusations about events that occurr and the words that are said. Your witness should be a manager, but one who is not emotionally invested in the termination.
4. DON’T DEBATE THE DECISION. You don’t need the employee’s agreement that the termination is justified. Simply communicate the decision; refuse to engage in any argument over its merits. If the termination is for performance reasons or misconduct, the employee should already be aware of the reasons behind the decision. You gain nothing by trying to convince the employee that he or she deserves to be fired. Such a discussion will only ratchet up tension.
Also, while you may feel compassion for employees you terminate, avoid the instinct to express those feelings the wrong way. For example, if the employee’s performance was substandard, don’t offer compliments on certain parts of his job performance. Doing so may make you feel better, but it will only anger the worker because it will appear that he’s being fired for no reason. And that can spark a wrongful-termination lawsuit.
5. FOCUS ON TRANSITION ISSUES. If the employee has company property, make arrangements now for its immediate return. If departing employees have noncompetes or other ongoing obligations, inform them of your expectations. Make arrangements for removal of the employee’s personal belongings. The focus should be on an amicable separation between the parties.
As you can see, terminations can be a legal minefield. Learn how to stay out of court (and in compliance) with the expert advice you’ll find at LEAP 2020. Plus, you’ll have a fabulous time with your peers at the legendary ARIA Vegas Hotel & Casino.
Hope to see you in Vegas!