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IBA: How To Fire An Employee

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By Mark R. Waterfill

Would you rather get your teeth drilled or fire that problem employee? It is easily the most painful part of the employment process. The case law of employment claims is ripe with horrible stories of terminations gone wrong. The purpose of this article is to set out guidelines which can help to make the tooth drilling process a little easier, both for you and the terminated individual.

Take as much time to fire as you did to hire. The employer who decides to fire someone at 3 pm on Friday is making a terrible mistake. Never fire in a hurry, especially when you are angry. Take your time and plan both the firing decision and the means to do it.

Document performance to support the decision. Hopefully you have good documentation procedures in place already and have given the employee evaluations and warnings that the performance is sub par or that there is some other business reason for the termination.

Always tell the truth. If the termination is not for cause but because of a downsizing, then do not make up other reasons, tell the employee you have to downsize. However, if the reason given is that there is a downsizing, make sure that you are not looking to fill the position in the near future.

Fire the employee for what they admit to have done, not what is speculated to have happened. In almost every for cause termination situation there are facts that the employee admits which are sufficient to justify the action. Use those as the reason for the termination, not what is suspected. For example, the bank teller who admits that she failed to count the money before placing it in the bag will be fired for that and not for theft of the money which she adamantly denies.

Use a team to deliver the news. The team should consist of a person with authority to make the decision and one who can handle the details of the exit. It is often advisable to have a male-female team to handle the matter.

Consider using a termination letter. Indiana law requires a written reason be given for any termination. Moreover, the exit interview can be eased substantially by the use of a termination letter. The letter can set out a general reason for the action, and handle the details of the termination with an increased degree of professionalism.

Handle the money well. Know how much the employee is owed for wages, vacation, commissions, etc. By handing the fired employee an envelope with a check in the appropriate amount at the termination, you will substantially reduce the chances for lawsuit by a disgruntled employee.

Terminate in a neutral site such as a board room or conference room. Besides being more fair to the discharged employ, the neutral site is more flexible than the president’s office. The terminated employee may want to go over every detail of removing each nick nack from the office or go over other details that the company president doesn’t need to remain to discuss. By using the neutral site, these situations can be avoided.

Shut up. Termination interviews can be ruined by poorly stated oral presentations. You have labored over this letter which the employee is trying to read, so let them do so. The best terminations are when the employee reads the letter, shakes your hand and walks out the door, nothing more to be said. Don’t ruin it by talking too much. Also, don’t engage in debate. The decision has been made and there is no reason to continue a discussion on the point.

Consider a severance package. Many employees are looking for a “package” consisting of severance and other benefits. If you are willing to pay more than two weeks’ severance, you should have an employment attorney draft a complete severance and release agreement which complies with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act. In the long run, you may save a lot of time and money by providing a severance package.

Remind the employee of any obligations to the company. In many states, including Indiana, covenants not to compete are enforceable even against employees who have been fired. Also, many employees know confidential trade secrets belonging to the company and they may not realize the liability they face for misappropriating those. It is good practice to remind employees of their obligations in the terminations letter.

Post-termination considerations. Do not follow all of these suggestions and then screw up the entire matter after the fact. Be aware that post-termination defamation and discrimination claims can be very expensive. Keep the circumstances of the termination confidential and instruct all others to do the same.

Firing an employee is, without question, the hardest part of management. However, by following these guidelines you might find what you thought would be a difficult termination turn-out to be as harmless as a visit to the dentist - with no cavities.•

Mark R. Waterfill is an attorney with the Indianapolis law firm of Benesch/Dann Pecar.

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  1. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  2. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  3. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  4. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

  5. Brian W, I fear I have not been sufficiently entertaining to bring you back. Here is a real laugh track that just might do it. When one is grabbed by the scruff of his worldview and made to choose between his Confession and his profession ... it is a not a hard choice, given the Confession affects eternity. But then comes the hardship in this world. Imagine how often I hear taunts like yours ... "what, you could not even pass character and fitness after they let you sit and pass their bar exam ... dude, there must really be something wrong with you!" Even one of the Bishop's foremost courtiers said that, when explaining why the RCC refused to stand with me. You want entertaining? How about watching your personal economy crash while you have a wife and five kids to clothe and feed. And you can't because you cannot work, because those demanding you cast off your Confession to be allowed into "their" profession have all the control. And you know that they are wrong, dead wrong, and that even the professional code itself allows your Faithful stand, to wit: "A lawyer may refuse to comply with an obligation imposed by law upon a good faith belief that no valid obligation exists. The provisions of Rule 1.2(d) concerning a good faith challenge to the validity, scope, meaning or application of the law apply to challenges of legal regulation of the practice of law." YET YOU ARE A NONPERSON before the BLE, and will not be heard on your rights or their duties to the law -- you are under tyranny, not law. And so they win in this world, you lose, and you lose even your belief in the rule of law, and demoralization joins poverty, and very troubling thoughts impeaching self worth rush in to fill the void where your career once lived. Thoughts you did not think possible. You find yourself a failure ... in your profession, in your support of your family, in the mirror. And there is little to keep hope alive, because tyranny rules so firmly and none, not the church, not the NGO's, none truly give a damn. Not even a new court, who pay such lip service to justice and ancient role models. You want entertainment? Well if you are on the side of the courtiers running the system that has crushed me, as I suspect you are, then Orwell must be a real riot: "There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always — do not forget this, Winston — always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever." I never thought they would win, I always thought that at the end of the day the rule of law would prevail. Yes, the rule of man's law. Instead power prevailed, so many rules broken by the system to break me. It took years, but, finally, the end that Dr Bowman predicted is upon me, the end that she advised the BLE to take to break me. Ironically, that is the one thing in her far left of center report that the BLE (after stamping, in red ink, on Jan 22) is uninterested in, as that the BLE and ADA office that used the federal statute as a sword now refuses to even dialogue on her dire prediction as to my fate. "C'est la vie" Entertaining enough for you, status quo defender?

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