Comedian George Burns quipped, “Look to the future because that is where you’ll spend the rest of your life.” Although complaints, investigations and litigation are an inevitable part of being an employer, preparation is key to avoiding bad outcomes. Later articles in this series will focus on specific trouble spots.
The following basic practices in hiring, employment and termination, however, lay the foundation for a better outcome, regardless of the trouble to come.
- Remember what you have promised. Before terminating an employee, determine whether there are any contractual arrangements that may place legal limitations on the company’s right to terminate.
- Never go it alone. Have a second person in the termination conference to confirm what was said.
- Be considerate. Treat the employee with dignity and protect the employee from unnecessary embarrassment. Make special arrangements for removing personal effects. A little courtesy can go a long way toward making the employee less inclined to sue.
- Be candid about the reasons. Do not disguise the real reason for termination in an attempt to spare the employee’s feelings. Taking one position at termination and then a different position down the road can lead to the impression that the employer’s claimed justification for termination is a pretext for an unlawful motive.
- Do not let the employee walk out the door with the company’s stuff. Have the employee turn in all company property, including data devices, and have the employee sign a statement representing that he has not retained any company property or information. If you suspect that the employee is preparing to compete, do not turn on any data devices until a forensically sound copy of the device has been made. Otherwise, valuable data could be lost.