Top HR Mistakes Series...Terminating Too Quickly

Tuesday, November 22, 2016
We recently did a seminar on the Top 10 HR Mistakes made by Small Business Owners, and the response was so great that we’re going to feature those mistakes in a blog series!

Today we’ll be talking about Terminating Too Quickly. This is an issue that we revisit with some frequency, because when the feelings of employees, managers, business owners, and maybe even customers get involved, it takes a level head to diffuse the situation…which is rarely a simple task.  We like to think that managers are that calm voice of reason, but even so, most managers or small business owners have probably daydreamed about that moment when a problem employee pushes you over the edge and you just yell, “you’re fired!” It would feel so good – get that employee out of your hair, out of your office or shop, out of your life….but doing so could actually keep that employee in your life much longer if they take you to court for Wrongful Termination!

“But,” you say, “I was very careful to make sure my handbook and my offer letters both say employment is At-Will! So I can fire any one any time!” Well, not so fast.  Yes, California is an Employment-At-Will state, meaning that an employer can let an employee go for any reason or no reason, as long as isn’t illegal (such as race, marital status, etc.) but that defense rarely, if ever, holds up in court. As an employer, you need to carefully document conduct or performance problems as they happen, so that when the time comes to terminate, there is plenty of documentation to defend your decision.

So when an employee is acting inappropriately and you’re done with them for the day, what do you do? Perhaps just send them home for the day and tell them you’ll discuss it tomorrow when cooler heads prevail – then actually talk to the employee.  Be sure to write down the situation in as much detail as you can, so that you can make an appropriate decision regarding action and timing of any next steps. Take a deep breath. Meditate. Go on a walk! Whatever you need to do to be sure you are the cooler head that will prevail. Follow your published procedures for dealing with performance and conduct issues, and do so in a timely manner. Dragging the situation out for weeks is unfair to both the business and the employee. Finally, be sure your employee understands the consequences for the behavior and signs some form of documentation, after you’ve given them the opportunity to share their side of the story in writing as well, on the incident. The alternative could be a Wrongful Termination lawsuit that, even if based on half-truths, could cost you months of your time and hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend.

The Fine Print: Each situation is unique and requires its own analysis, so while we encourage you to use this information as a guideline, it should not be considered legal advice.