Employers must be sensitive to the emotional reactions of employees when they have been fired. An employee who realizes he may have played a part in his separation will respond differently from an employee who comes to the conclusion that he was discriminated against or fired illegally. There are steps an employer can take to prevent claims for unlawful termination.
When an employee is terminated for unsatisfactory performance, it should come as no surprise. Unless the performance is egregious, the employee should be notified that his performance must be improved, with guidance as to how to reach specific goals. This is not a legal requirement, but in most cases, it is more efficient to help an employee correct mistakes rather than replace him. A better atmosphere in the workplace is created generally, and the employee has been warned if there needs to be a termination later on.
One rule is to always document discussions regarding opportunities for improvement. These interactions should be noted in the personnel file shortly thereafter to have a record of what was said. It’s a good idea to have the employee sign the written document to show he has received it, and he should definitely receive a copy.
Be consistent. Think about chances you have given other employees to improve and why. Make sure you provide those same opportunities to employees in similar situations and carry through. Do not tell an employee that he has ninety days to improve, and then terminate him less than one month later. Be careful not to create the impression that the employee cannot be fired during the probationary period. Nothing in these conversations should be construed to change the at-will relationship. Train your managers so that they are aware of how to deal with performance issues with their staff. Your managers represent the company and are the direct communicators with the employee. For that reason, they should be given guidelines as to how to deal with problematic employees.
If it feels wrong, it probably is. Place yourself in the employee’s shoes. How would you react if you were told you were being terminated? If you would be surprised, then more steps should be taken before you fire the employee. Finally, seek legal advice before taking action. If you are uncertain about the legality of the termination, it makes sense to talk to someone who deals with these situations every day.