This article is written to provide you with the steps to take to ensure you have done your due diligence throughout the termination process.
In part 1 of this series, we discussed why it is important to incorporate humanity throughout the termination process, for both the terminating employee and remaining team. In the 2nd part of this series, we are going to discuss which steps to take to ensure you did your due diligence in correcting the misconduct before the decision is made to dismiss an employee; keeping in mind that you are dealing with a human being who has feelings and emotions.
Objective Decision Making
As discussed in part 1, the decision to terminate an employee should be taken with careful consideration and remain separate from personal influences. Taking business personally is an easy trap to fall into if we do not keep ourselves in check, especially when handling a situation that goes against our own moral compass or professional conduct.
Keep in mind that separating personal from business is vital to making objective business decisions; which is a skillset many business professionals acquire, as long as they are committed to the efforts of doing so.
When a situation is brought forward regarding an employee’s misconduct, it is important to take that moment to pause and take into consideration if this is the first time, or if a repeated pattern is occurring, before reacting. Dismissing an employee without having all the pieces of the puzzle to make an informed decision could result in unfavourable outcomes such as an employment standard complaint, which can lead to legal proceedings.
Pro Tip: It is poor business practice to wait way past the optimal time to correct misconduct or to terminate. When you hold off from doing anything, you display acceptance for inappropriate workplace behaviour and risk supporting a toxic work environment because the situation has not been corrected.
To determine whether termination is the right path to take, we suggest conducting a thorough investigation in a timely manner. By seeking out feedback from others, gathering previous misconduct documents, and accurately documenting the outcomes, you will have evidence to reflect on and make an informed decision.
Doing this ensures you are being proactive to solve a problem and are demonstrating due diligence that any decision made is not subjective. Demonstrating due diligence and documenting the steps taken will protect you and the company from any concerns of wrongfully dismissing an employee, as you can provide evidence that the decision was in everyone’s best interest. When you are proactive, you handle the situation before any existing or future problems are escalated.
The following steps will help determine if the termination is in the best interest for all parties:
1. Formal Discussion
No termination should be a surprise! Dedicate uninterrupted time to meet with the employee privately to discuss their misconduct.
When you take the time to meet, you are showing the employee respect by letting them know about the concerns that were brought to your attention and what is happening, they might not even know that their behaviour is unacceptable or that they violated a company guideline.
The intent of this conversation is to inform the employee of the situation, understand what might be going on, and receive feedback from them to resolve the issue(s); refrain from making this meeting all about you or casting blame on anyone. While you are in this meeting, it is vital that you show your willingness to listen and understand by approaching this situation in an inviting, considerate, and empathetic manner. Through this approach, the employee will be more relaxed and comfortable, rather than feeling personally attacked which can lead to hostile behaviours.
Discussions like these are difficult to have, however, you can make it easier for yourself and those involved by integrating humanity into the conversation, which increases the chance of the meeting ending with positive outcomes since you are demonstrating respect and commitment to let them improve their performance instead of firing them on the spot.
Pro Tip: Documentation is critical! Keep a record of this conversation, the steps taken, and have a third party in the room with you (i.e. another manager, HR, or an outside mediator).
2. Action Plan
During the formal discussion, you will work with the employee to create an action plan (if required). The action plan is intended to provide the employee with the opportunity to improve their performance as part of the solution. Establish a reasonable timeframe for the employee to adhere to. By having an action plan in place, the employee is accountable for improving their performance per the plan and within the timeframe that they agreed to.
Now, just because the action plan is in place doesn’t mean that you are off the hook. You are also accountable to ensure you do everything you can to support the employee as they work towards improving their performance. If the employee does not improve their performance or is unwilling to cooperate, you can take the action plan to the next step knowing that you did what you could to change the outcome.
Attention: The next step of this process only takes place after the Action Plan is expired! Do no do it before the agreed upon date!
3. Disciplinary Action
If the Action Plan does not create positive change, and disciplinary action is the next step, it is crucial to be consistent with how you handle each employee. Don’t forget to lead this process with compassion and understanding. This point in the process might be difficult, especially if the employee is being challenging, however it is important to remember how you react and treat the employee throughout the process will only hurt or support your case.
Once you decide that this is the next step, provide the employee options:
A. Participate in a Disciplinary Action Plan
This is a structured program to fix the behaviour, which is typically done by external training, coaching, or development programs/institutions. The employee will also receive a letter of intent which explains the situation, steps taken, and what the consequences are for non-compliance – which generally ends in termination.
B. Suggested Voluntary Termination
You can ask the employee if they want to quit rather than participate in Option A. If they agree to these terms, you can agree on a timeline when they will give notice.
By providing the employee these options, you are demonstrating thoughtful consideration and giving them the opportunity to take accountability for the next steps to be taken with their employment.
If the outcome results in termination, have peace of mind that you did all you could do to accommodate and acted in a civil and respectful manner. You have the documentation in place to show what steps were taken and that the employee was made fully aware that their employment was at risk.
Note: If the employee wants to make a complaint against your business relating to a wrongful dismissal, you can use your evidence to show your due diligence and that the employee did not comply.
4. Employment Termination Preparation
As mentioned before, no employee should be surprised if they’re terminated. They should be well aware enough to know it’s coming as you provided them opportunities to change the outcome and had discussions with them about their misconduct. Before you hold an employment termination meeting, it is important that you have everything prepared and in place.
Ensure you prepared and have the final termination letters ready for the meeting. These documents provide the terminating employees with pertinent information relating to their termination, steps taken, disciplinary actions, and (when required) severance pay. Stay tuned for our future series on Termination Letters where we will discuss different types of termination letters and their proper uses.
Take the time to plan what you are going to say, staying aligned with your awareness that you are speaking to a human being. Maintain empathy but keep it short and simple. Nothing is more demeaning than listening to someone overexplain the situation and drag it out.
The best way to maintain your composure through any potential heightened emotional situation is to prepare for how someone might react: will they be calm, lash out, or become overly emotional?
5. Employment Termination Meeting
The only reason for this meeting is to provide the employee with the information they need relating to the termination and to collect any company property they may have in their possession.
To ensure you do not cause unnecessary worry or negative reactions, it would be beneficial to not give the employee more than a few minutes notice before the meeting. If the employee is honest with themselves and the steps were followed, this moment will be expected. If the employee is aware of the upcoming meeting, they could potentially react and cause a disruption within the work environment.
Schedule the meeting to be conducted in a timely manner and last around 30 minutes. Again, the goal of this meeting is to provide them with the information they need and to answer any questions they may have. It is not your responsibility to console them, they can turn to their friends and family – however, remain empathetic and fact based.
Note: Depending on the circumstance, if you are considering terminating an employee in December, try to hold off from it until the New Year. Be considerate, it is considered a business faux pas and very inhumane to terminate employees just before the holidays.
The environment where the meeting is held can impact how the employee reacts to the news. It is best to have this meeting in a private setting which is as comfortable as possible. By having this meeting in a private setting without an audience to hear or watch, you are demonstrating respect for the employee, allowing them a quiet place to ask questions, understand what is going on, and to react without judgement from spectators.
It is important that you have 1 or 2 other personnel with you for the meeting, they can either be company employees (Manager, HR, Executive Member) or external personnel (Therapist, Mediator, Security). The decision will be up to you on who you want in the room and how you think the situation will transpire.
End of Termination Meeting
Make the decision whether the employee will be required to leave as soon as terminated or if they can stay through to the end of the day.
Dismissing an employee is not always going to be an easy decision to make, however there is always a right and wrong approach to take. The right approach is to keep your humanity intact throughout the process and separate personal from business. How you react to and handle this situation can either hurt or support your case. The one key takeaway is to always ensure your decisions are objective and legal.
Finally, remember that documentation is crucial throughout the process as it can be used as evidence in legal proceedings to show that you did your due diligence to change the outcomes of the events. Documentation includes written notices, letter of intent, disciplinary letters, emails, and other notes relating to the situation and the steps taken. The more documentation you keep, the better prepared you will be to discuss the termination and show you followed the appropriate protocols based on federal/provincial laws and regulations and company guidelines.
Take Care, Be Thoughtful, Considerate, and Retain your Humanity throughout the Termination Process.
Download this resource Letting Someone Go: Part 2 – Is This the Right Decision?.