How do I properly document problems with attitude or behavior in an employment termination?

by on May 22, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Establish and enforce a behavior standard for an employment termination

Get rid of the word “attitude” in the the employment termination process.
Throw that term out. Legal counsel will throw it out. Opposing legal counsel will consider it code. If you have the word “attitude” anywhere in your handbook, anywhere in your vocabulary or any of your write-ups or evaluations as managers, get it out of there because everywhere you have “attitude”, they will substitute age, sex, race, religion, national origin, disability. They’ll substitute “the list” because they’ll tell you and argue successfully that it’s just a code. They’ll argue that no one has good or bad attitude. You can’t measure attitude. Usually, the biggest problem is behavior. Most people get fired. An employment termination is for behavior, not for performance.

A behavior standard for employment termination
Establish a behavior standard for employment terminations. Maintain positive work atmosphere by acting, communicating in a manner so that you get along with customers, clients, coworkers and most importantly, you. I am the boss, so you should demand a positive work atmosphere from your employees.

In the past, supervisors would come up to HR and say, “Hey, I got an employee with an attitude problem.” They’d tell you to wait until their performance is affected. Then once their performance is affected, we can document and deal with it. But then you end up with people who just do enough to get by. Even if you raise the bar, they just do enough to get by. But they’re miserable, grumpy, whiney, human beings. If you’ve got an employee who never stops whining, you owe it to the good employees to say, “Okay, that’s it.”

You tell the employee no more whining. Problem solved. It may be discrimination against whiners, but it isn’t against the law and will stand up as a valid termination of employment. Whiners aren’t a protected group; they aren’t on “the list”. Maybe it is petty, but that’s what makes you and your employees unhappy, so it’s your obligation to deal with it.

You might also hear that it isn’t fair. They’re right. Work isn’t meant to be fair. What I owe to you is the communication of standard. We’re okay communicating performance standards. We’re not so good at communicating behavior standards. The concept is simple. You communicate expectations for performance and behavior. And then you hold people accountable.

Employment termination: Documentation and behavior.
First, there’s a scale for employment termination. You may put up with some behavior characteristics from accounting, from IT. These people have little idiosyncrasies. It makes them particularly good at their job. But would you put your IT person on the front desk as your receptionist or in customer service? In many cases, you would not. So you’ll tolerate some behavior characteristics from IT that you’d never accept anywhere else.. That’s your call to make.

There may come a point when the scales tip in favor of employment termination. That’s it, that’s enough. You lose a good employee. A good employee says, “I’m not working around so and so” and they leave. Or you come in one day and like the weight of the world is off the whole office. It just feels better. What’s that about? Well, so and so is gone. There’s a clue that we’ve waited too long.

Then we document. You may give four or five verbal reminders before you start the formal employment termination paperwork. “You’re not going to write them up right off the bat. If you have union and government, you may have to. But short of that, you may just start with verbal reminders. You may put it in the calendar; document it on a computer screen, a file somewhere. If that works and that’s all it takes, informal, that’s great. If you need to go to a more formal documentation, refer back to the verbal statements. In essence, be sure you can go back and take credit for verbal reminders later on down the road.

These are the edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar:
“Yes, You Can Fire Without Fear! What Every Supervisor Needs to Know” hosted by Hunter Lott, Esq. on September 22, 2008

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