Documentation is your main source of evidence for an employee termination

The documentation in an employee termination has got to be signed or initialed or witnessed. Signed or initialed or witnessed by yourself, the owner, manager, supervisor and the employee. If the employee doesn’t sign the document, it’s like it didn’t happen, and is therefore useless when terminating an employee.

If for whatever reason they refuse to sign, or if you think you’re going to have a problem, get a witness, co-owner, manager, supervisor, HR. If you’ve got a witness to the fact, you can show that you communicated the information. The employee refused to sign, but you’ve got people to prove they received the information.

Refusal to sign employee termination documentation
You can also get tricky with documentation. If they don’t want to sign, take the form. Turn it over on the back. Write down, ‘I refuse to sign this form’. And get them to initial it. This will work. Another technique, you’ll see at the bottom – little boxes to check and initial if they agree or disagree. Employee says, “I disagree with this thing.” Have them check it off. Of course, hopefully they agree. The goal is to salvage. But you need to take credit for the good work that you’re doing. Documentation is critical when terminating an employee.

Document to salvage not for employee termination
Also, document to salvage jobs. Do not document for terminating an employee. Don’t go screaming to HR and start building documentation against an employee right when you decide it’s time to fire him. That’s a form of retaliation because the outsider watching you’re company is going to ask, “Was it your intent to get rid of Bob?” “No.” “Then would you be willing to rehire Bob?” “Well, no.” Catch it early. Don’t wait until you’ve lost total trust and faith in this employee. Look at the employee and say, “Here’s your job. It’s up to you to decide.”

Late in the process, almost as a last resort option before employee termination is that you can offer a decision making leave. If an employee just isn’t living up to performance and behavior expectations, give them a day off with pay. Let them think about whether or not they’re going to commit to continuing employment. If she comes back and says she quits, they cut her a check and she’s out. If she wants to continue employment, then let her know what the expectations are, and that if she messes up again, she’s gone.

Suppose two months later, she messes up. Do you build more documentation? No. She’s gone. She sues. The outsider will ask if you gave her a reasonable chance to save her job. You did. You gave her a paid day-off to think about her job. The jury will say that no boss has ever paid them to think before.

And this is a better use of our time than the old three-day suspension without pay. If you’re suspending people for three days for an absenteeism problem, not only is that not punishment. It’s a reward. You’re sending the wrong message.

At the same time, honor what’s reasonable. When trying to decide what is reasonable, think about “60 Minutes”. Would you be willing to go on 60 Minutes and defend the employee termination and say you gave them a reasonable chance to save their job?

Edited remarks from the Rapid Learning Institute webinar: “Yes, You Can Fire Without Fear! What Every Supervisor Needs to Know” by Hunter Lott on April 29, 2009

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