Having to terminate employees is part and parcel of being an employer. Rare is the employer capable of going years on end without having to terminate anyone. Unfortunately, termination can easily become a messy affair that leads to arguments over unemployment benefits or a potential wrongful termination lawsuit.
BenefitMall, a Dallas company that provides payroll and benefits administration services, says the key to avoiding the pitfalls of employee termination is documentation. As you read the remainder of this post, you will see just how important documentation is. The best way to protect the business is to document everything from start to finish.
Written Termination Policies
Documentation begins with written termination policies outlining how, when, and why employees can be terminated. For starters, such policies lay out details regarding cause. In other words, what types of employee conduct are considered legitimate cause for dismissal? Such conduct should be clearly explained in a company’s termination policies.
Said policies should also explain how detrimental conduct is documented, how employees are to be warned of their conduct, any remedial opportunities available to them, and how a final determination of employment status will be made.
Document Employee Conduct
With written policies in place, management can then begin documenting detrimental employee conduct. This is where so many employers fall down. They let things go initially, hoping that an employee’s conduct will not lead to dismissal. By the time they do get around to documenting such conduct, it could be too late to turn things around.
It is best to start documenting detrimental conduct as soon as it starts happening. Even the smallest of infractions should be documented either electronically or in writing. Such documentation should include the fact that the employee was made aware of the conduct in question and acknowledges that it has been documented.
Although such documentation may seem burdensome, it could be the only thing that protects an employer in the event of a wrongful termination lawsuit. Documentation is proof that detrimental conduct was observed and company termination policies were followed.
Document Remedial Opportunities
There are times following especially egregious behavior when immediate dismissal is unavoidable. But other times, infractions are not so serious as to warrant immediate dismissal. Rather, remediation is offered as a way to avoid termination. Any such remedial opportunities should also be documented.
Management should document offering remedial opportunities to offending employees. They should also document whether or not those opportunities were taken advantage of. In cases where employees do go the remedial route, his or her record should reflect that. The point here is to document the positive as well as the negative.
Document the Dismissal
Finally, in the event uncorrected behavior eventually leads to termination, the actual dismissal procedure should be documented in detail. It should include references to previous write-ups and remedial opportunities. It should include details of how the employee in question was terminated.
It is helpful to have at least one witness present at the time of dismissal. This minimizes the chances of a ‘he said, she said’ scenario in which a terminated employee disputes unemployment benefits or threatens a lawsuit. Witnesses go a long way toward establishing an employer’s justification for dismissal.
Terminating an employee is rarely pleasant. Sometimes it has to be done for the good of the company. When that time comes, documentation is everything. To the extent that a company documents behavioral issues, remedial opportunities, and eventual dismissal, it will be protected against litigation. On the other hand, failing to document is an open invitation to disaster. There may be no defense without adequate documentation.