Consider Policy and Consistency Before Firing an Employee

by on May 27, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Example situations and questions for firing an employee.

Suppose you discover that an employee has been viewing pornographic material on his work computer during the work day. You’re thinking about firing this employee even though you didn’t terminate the last person you caught viewing pornographic materials. You should consider your consistency here. If this person and the last one are situated similarly, firing this employee wouldn’t be appropriate. But consider the person’s work record, any previous disciplinary issues, and whether or not this situation is somehow more egregious than the previous violator. If for any of those reasons this situation is different, you could then conceivably consider firing this employee.

One of our employees has been accused of sexual harassment. You think that warrants immediately firing the employee, not progressive discipline. Is it okay to terminate him immediately?

Well, you notice it says, “One of our employees has been accused of sexual harassment.” It doesn’t say, “We found that one of our employees engaged in sexual harassment.” So this is a situation where the first question would be, well, did you investigate? Did you conclude after a good faith investigation that the employee actually engaged in sexual harassment?

If the answer is yes, consider what you have done in past situations before promptly firing the employee. Of course, if there have been no similar situations, you know, that’s not a consideration. Then you want to figure out how offensive the action was? Is firing the employee appropriate here? Or is it a situation where giving the person one last chance would be justified? You don’t want to just jump to the conclusion that they need to be fired because of merely an accusation.

Questions and summary
A final summary, before firing an employee, ask yourself the following questions and if you can answer yes and you’ve got the support documentation to back up your answers, you should really be able to greatly minimize legal claims.

  1. Has the employee received fair warning of the possible discipline and the consequences of his or her conduct?
  2. Is the company’s policy or the manager’s instruction reasonably related to the operations of the company? So, if we’re disciplining somebody for something, is it relevant to what they do?
  3. Have you made an effort to discover whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey the company’s policies or the manager’s instructions?
  4. If you conducted an investigation, has it been conducted in good faith and is the conclusion reasonable?
  5. Have the company’s policies been applied consistently to similarly situated employees?
  6. Does the proposed degree of penalty reasonably relate to the offense?
  7. Edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar “Effective Termination Techniques -How to Document Terminations So You Won’t Lose a Lawsuit” by Alyssa Senzel. October 24, 2007

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