Avoid the Rush to Terminate.

Termination is one of the last resort actions within an organization. Why? Because it almost always signals a failure somewhere and sends a negative message to current and prospective employees.


Termination also triggers severance pay, unemployment benefits, and other complications that most organizations work hard to avoid.


In fact, there’s no faster way to destroy your employee brand than terminating a large number of employees for performance issues. Unfortunately, that’s not where the missteps end. When considering termination as an option, we recommend avoiding these common pitfalls:


Don’t terminate for the wrong reasons.

Every organization has a different set of expectations for employee performance, but for most companies, a serious performance issue is the last thing on their list.


If you are considering termination, first, make sure you are not making a misstep based on a misunderstanding of the employee’s responsibilities or a misperception of their work. For example, if an IT employee failed to write a system upgrade schedule, that may be a mistake or it may be a sign of a larger problem. You can’t be sure until you ask.


Similarly, don’t terminate an employee because of a personality clash or a misunderstanding between the employee and the manager. Better communication, coaching, and mentoring can often resolve these issues. If an employee is performing well in most respects but has one or two issues related to their core job function, you may want to consider a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) before termination.


Avoid using a poor performance improvement plan (PIP) as a pre-step before terminating.

Many companies use PIPs to help employees improve performance before terminating for poor performance. Although PIPs are appropriate in some cases, many companies use them as a pre-step to termination.


However, if an employee successfully completes a PIP, they’ve demonstrated they have the potential to improve.


If you terminate an employee following a PIP without cause, you risk a discrimination lawsuit. For example, if you terminate an employee who has a disability following a PIP, that employee may have grounds to file a discrimination lawsuit.


You can protect yourself by documenting the employee’s performance issue and clearly documenting the terms of the PIP. Include clear expectations and a clear completion date. Follow up with the employee at regular intervals to monitor their progress on the PIP.


Don’t terminate without having a record of why you are making the decision.

Terminating an employee for poor performance is risky. Termination is a serious step that can seriously damage your employee brand. As a result, before terminating an employee for poor performance, you must document the employee’s performance issues and the record in writing.


One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is terminating an employee for performance issues without having a paper trail that supports the decision. An employee who has been terminated for poor performance can file a wrongful termination lawsuit.


If you terminate an employee without the appropriate documentation, you may lose the suit and the terminated employee may win severance. If you terminate an employee with the appropriate documentation, they may still file a wrongful termination lawsuit but they will almost always lose.


Don’t rush the decision to terminate based on emotion.

In most organizations, poor performers elicit strong emotions, such as frustration and disappointment. As a result, you may feel the urge to make the termination decision quickly. Don’t do it.


If the employee is a good performer but has one or two major performance issues, you may be able to help the employee improve their performance. If the employee is a poor performer, you may be able to help the employee improve their performance if you give them time, coaching, and mentoring.


Terminating an employee for performance issues is a last resort after every other option has failed, so don’t rush the decision to terminate. Make sure you have exhausted every option before you decide to terminate.


When deciding whether to terminate an employee for performance issues, consider the following:



  • Have you given the employee clear expectations and sufficient time to meet those expectations?
  • Is the employee meeting most of the expectations but falling short on one or two core job functions?


Make sure you have an employee handbook that supports your decision.


If you want to terminate an employee with less risk, make sure your employee handbook is up to date and that it supports the decision to terminate. For example, if your handbook calls for progressive discipline, it may not support a decision to terminate for poor performance.


Similarly, if your handbook calls for multiple rounds of coaching or mentoring before terminating, it may not support a decision to terminate following a single round of coaching or mentoring.

Wrapping Up.

Ultimately, terminating an employee is a difficult decision that almost always signals a failure somewhere.


Terminating an employee is not something you want to do unless you have exhausted every other option and have a paper trail that supports the decision. When deciding whether to terminate an employee, make sure you have a clear understanding of their performance issues, that you have given them time and coaching to improve their performance, and that your employee handbook supports the decision to terminate.

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