I’ll bet you can relate to this story. I’ve heard many, many variations of it over the years. The details change, but the end result is always the same. Since it’s so common and because it can cause so much damage, I thought it was fitting for it to be the first topic covered.
Pete is your worst manager. When you hired him, he was pretty decent. Worked his way through the ranks. But, if you’re honest, the only reason you promoted him to manager is because he had been with you the longest and was the only real option you had to fill the spot. And, you had to fill the spot because the open to close shifts were killing you.
At first he did fine. He made mistakes, but seemed to be listening to your redirects and maybe he was getting better. Except he wasn’t. Looking back you realize you were spending way more time fixing his mistakes and dealing with his drama than you were running your entire business. And now, he doesn’t even bother coming in all the time – it’s like he thinks the rules don’t apply to him.
You have a pretty good bench now. You can let him go without too much of a labor struggle. You’re ready. More than ready – you can’t wait to get this done.
Let’s have some fun with this. Remember those “Choose Your Own Ending” books from back in the day (or, maybe they still make them and I’m just clueless)? Try your hand at the HR version! Click the option your gut tells you to and I’ll give you a possible scenario that could happen after you make that choice. Or, if you’re not into that – just keep reading.
On your commute home one night you review your options to let Pete go:
OPTION ONE Text Pete “don’t bother coming in tomorrow – you have left me short staffed for the last time.”
OPTION TWO Fill out a Separation Form that you downloaded somewhere or from someone, meet with him in person and get it over with.
OPTION THREE Call your HR Advisor for guidance (you’re paying for her – may as well put her to use and get your money’s worth!)
I’ll get to the point…more often than not when this scenario happens you don’t have any documentation, or you have little or poorly written documentation so terminating employment poses challenges if you want any chance of winning an unemployment claim and keeping your legal exposure low.
The scenarios I provided are not unrealistic. Trust me. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a lot of cases exactly like this. Even on the ones I am able to pull something magical out of some random text message or verbal conversation to put my client on more solid ground, it’s not a short or fun road. Inevitably it sets the stage for the future because by the time we’re done tracking down the employee who overheard another employee talking to ANOTHER employee about the incident just to get a date of when it happened my client is so irritated with the process they vow to never let it happen again. Which is great, but what a painful lesson to learn!
Here are some tips for putting yourself in a better position and maintaining practices that save you a ton of time in the long run. I promise, once you make this your culture (and to become culture it takes a lot of leading by example and accountability) you will love how much less effort this process takes and how much better your results are!
- Audit your handbook. If you are an Amplified HR client you are covered, but if you have been piecing something together over the years, make sure it at least has your company rules that you want to hold your employees accountable for. If you don’t have a rule, you can usually use the “reasonable expectation: clause, but it makes a lot of sense to spell out some of your more critical rules.
- Be strict about documentation. It’s ok to do a coaching the first time an employee forgets to wear a belt but if it continues to happen you really must do a write-up in order to set the foundation to set them up for success and/or move them towards exiting your payroll. It’s important to be clear about your expectations AND the consequences of your employees not meeting those expectations. Oh – and don’t delay. When you put it off, you damage your unemployment case and you give the employee a chance to engage in protected activity or take a protected leave which makes your decision to document later seem retaliatory (one of the worst legal claims you can have brought against you!)
- Be clear and concise with your documentation so that any outside party could read it and not only understand what happened, but totally get why this is a big deal and how the employee’s behavior could harm your company.
- FOLLOW THROUGH. Don’t let write-ups just pile up with no end of employment in sight. Not only does this make them completely worthless on the surface (if their behavior was so bad, why did you let them keep doing it?) but it sets a terrible message for your other employees and, quite frankly, it pisses them off. They hate when someone gets away with violations perpetually and pretty soon your A level employees will leave and you’ll be left with just the C players.
- Get advice! Ask your HR advisor to help you draft write-ups, read the ones you draft for editing and/or help you come up with ongoing strategies for next steps. Also, and this is very important, sometimes the issues you want to write someone up for are protected by employment laws and going through with a write-up could get you into some legal trouble. An example could be writing up an employee who has to take what seems like excessive bathroom breaks a day due to a medical issue or writing up an employee who claims they can’t follow your dress code due to a sincerely held religious belief.
Can write-ups really be the destroyer or savior of your company? In most situations, that’s probably an exaggeration. Could poorly written or non-existent write-ups cost you a six figure settlement? Yes. Could well documented write-ups win your unemployment case? You betcha. Could well-documented and well-presented documents prevent a legal claim? Yep.
There’s so much more to employee discipline than a write-up – so many moving parts to consider. If you don’t have an HR advisor now, I recommend that you subscribe to newsletters, read blogs and find credible resources to research as things come up – keeping your attorney on speed dial when you need him.
The world of employment law is constantly changing and employees are getting more and more litigious. Nothing to be scared of… unless you don’t take the time to keep up with this stuff. If that’s the case, be afraid. Be very afraid. 🙂 I’m kidding. Kind of.
As always… Don’t Worry, We’ve Got This
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