Understand the reasons and know what’s being awarded before the termination of employment

Before a termination of employment, it’s a good idea to understand the motivation and behavior for any employee. Know what’s being rewarded, and know what their motivation is for changing or violating employee policies. If you have an employee who consistently calls in sick once a week but works hard when he’s here and has accumulated some sick leave, termination of employment for excessive absenteeism isn’t necessarily fair.

The employee has earned those sick days, and if he doesn’t use them, he loses them. But instead, you might try documenting an unproductive work pattern. Understand what’s being rewarded. What’s their motivation for breaking employee policies and risking termination of employment? If they’re not motivated for positive change, they’re not going to change.

Some of this will be generational. This generation does tend to honor time more than money. You’ll find employees are more likely to ask for an additional week of vacation instead of a raise. So prior to terminating an employee, think about what motivates them to do what they’re doing.

Suppose you have a long-term employee that has been whining at the supervisor for 17 years. You’re the new boss and you’ve had enough. Don’t go into HR screaming about somebody’s attitude. If you can’t describe it to HR, you probably can’t describe it to an outsider when you try to justify the termination of employment. Many opposing legal counsel will look at the term attitude as code for “the list”.

Attitude is not measurable.
Nobody has good or bad attitude. Keep the idea, but use another word. Instead of yelling and screaming about the employee’s attitude, talk about behavior. Behavior is measurable. You and your company can set standards for behavior. You can set up employee policies that force workers to maintain a positive work atmosphere by acting and communicating in a manner so that you get along with customers, clients, co-workers and most importantly, me. Don’t forget that you are the boss.

Make termination of employment about the behavior.
Keep the word attitude out of your employee policies. Keep the idea, get a new word. The new word is “behavior” and set a behavior standard. That way, you can go talk to the whining employee and tell them that whining is forbidden now. That’s something you can define. It’s got nothing to do with sex or race, so it’s not discrimination. It might be petty, but it’s what is causing trouble in the workplace, so terminating an employee for it is not only justified, it might even be necessary.

Most of the time termination of employment has to do with behavior. Most people don’t get fired for their performance; it’s their behavior. Folks try to blame the law and say they can’t deal with this by firing so they have to put up with this. Sure you can fire. No, you don’t have to deal with this. In fact, it’s your responsibility not to.

Remember supervisors, you get the employees you deserve. You get the employees you deserve. If you choose not to take action, if you choose to deal with this, and you’ll know it’s gone too far when good people start to leave. “I’m leaving because of so and so.” Then we know it’s gone too far.
Now, this is a scale. You got to weigh performance versus behavior. You got to decide. Does their behavior outweigh their performance?

Edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar: “Yes, You Can Fire Without Fear! What Every Supervisor Needs to Know” by Hunter Lott, Esq. on April 2, 2008

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