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How to Fire an Employee, Part 1: The Decision

Posted on in Terminating Employees

Illinois business attorneysWhen you employ a staff to help you meet the needs of your customers, sooner or later you will have an employee who fails to live up to your expectations. Perhaps he or she has problems with being on time, complying with your company’s dress code, or is simply not productive enough to warrant what you are paying him or her. But, how can you be sure that firing the employee will not blow up in your face, so to speak? There are some steps you can take to help protect yourself and your company from lawsuits and frivolous accusations when you decide to terminate an employee.

The Two Phases

In the movies and on TV, it not uncommon to see a boss fire an employee on the spot for a particularly egregious mistake or outburst. While an immediate firing may be warranted on occasion, most employee terminations occur after an extended decision-making process. Firing an employee, usually, can be broken down into two separate stages—the decision and the termination—and both must be handled properly.

Laying the Groundwork

Firing an employee the right way begins long before that employee was ever hired. In order to dismiss a member of your staff due to failure to follow rules, you must have rules for him or her to follow. It is important for you to establish clear company policies regarding expected behavior, productivity requirements, and attendance. Your rules need to be reasonable and applied equally to each and every member of your staff to avoid possible claims of discrimination. Be sure that all of your employees have access to your policies. This can be done by giving them each a copy of your employee handbook.

Discipline and Written Records

Most successful companies have a clearly-established disciplinary process included in their employee handbooks. A first-time rule breaker, for example, may receive a verbal warning, followed by a written warning for a second offense. A third offense may prompt a second written warning and mandatory re-training or “coaching.” At some point, your disciplinary protocol must clearly indicate that an employee may be subject to termination for continuing certain behaviors. In addition, gross misconduct—such as the inappropriate treatment of a customer—could be grounds for termination the first time it occurs, depending on the circumstances.

Accurate recordkeeping is a crucial element of the disciplinary process. If your policy requires a written warning, write it down! It is even a good idea to make at least cursory note regarding a verbal warning. All such records should be kept as part of your employee’s file. Written records are important because they prevent a terminated worker from being able to claim that he or she had no idea there was a problem or that he or she was treated unfairly.

Make Rational Decisions

Finally, it is also important to avoid making the decision to fire an employee in the heat of anger. He or she may have let you down, but high emotions can lead to regrettable decisions or poorly chosen words. Unless the matter requires immediate action, take a few hours or even a couple days to decide whether the worker has a future at your company. If the answer is no, you will need to start preparing for stage two of the process—the termination itself—which will be addressed in an upcoming blog post.

Call Us for Help

If you are facing difficult personnel decisions, an experienced Arlington Heights business law attorney can offer guidance. Contact A. Traub & Associates for a confidential consultation with a member of our team today. Call 847-749-4182 for an appointment.



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