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Wrongful Termination: Protect Yourself Before There’s an Issue

An effective termination initiative educates, reinforces and demonstrates your company’s commitment to maintaining a productive workplace.

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Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to fire anyone? No difficult conversations, no time spent searching for candidates to replace employees, no wrongful termination claims…

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Just as there are a handful of colleges with 100 percent acceptance rates, odds are there’s some visionary company out there that have pulled off 100 percent employee retention. But for the vast majority of employers, every choice to hire someone increases the likelihood that someone, at some point, will have to be let go. And let’s be honest: Not everyone is suited for the position they’re hired for in, and there are people who don’t have their employer’s or co-workers’ best interests at heart.

Rather than figuring out how to fire an employee a week, a day or an hour before calling that person into your office, it’s a good idea to develop a methodology for handling terminations. Doing so will not only make life easier for people on all sides of the equation but it will provide your organization with some protection in the event that a former employee files a wrongful termination claim.

With that in mind, I’d like to share some recommended practices for dealing with employee terminations in a systematic approach — starting with steps to take before there’s an issue.

Get Your Policies in Order

To develop effective, repeatable, documented termination procedures, you’ll need to start where so many workforce compliance initiatives start: your employee handbook. Make sure your employee handbook contains language that accurately reflects the terms of employment that apply to your workforce. For most employers, that means specifying at-will employment, which ensures that you don’t need to find “just cause” to terminate an employee or provide warnings first.

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Get Your Procedures in Order

Your handbook talks the talk; your organizational procedures need to walk the walk.
Your organization needs to create and document processes related to:

· performance evaluation
· disciplinary action
· incident management
· termination
· post-termination procedures

To ensure that these processes happen in a consistent manner (i.e. no employee receives unfair or special treatment), you will need to automate them. New to automation? Technology now exists to host all your policies in one place and document discipline and termination processes as they occur.

Educate Your Managers

Policies and procedures are vital, but they don’t mean much if they’re not followed properly. Make sure managers at your organization know what kind of conduct you expect of them. In addition to everyday employee management skills, those in charge should know how to react in difficult situations, e.g. when intervening in a dispute between co-workers or disciplining a hostile employee. It probably goes without saying, but managers should also be aware of federal and state employment laws and regulations.

Educate Your Employees

Termination should rarely, if ever, come as a surprise. Make sure all members of your workforce understand the rules of your workplace, including what kinds of behaviors result in discipline or termination. Once again, your employee handbook is the ideal vehicle to communicate this information.

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These four steps may help your organization reduce the chances of an employment dispute or claim, but they’re just the start. An effective termination initiative educates, reinforces and demonstrates your company’s commitment to maintaining a productive workplace.

Kynzie Sims is Compli’s legal content product manager.

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