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Grounds for Termination

If you open any employee handbook in companies large and small you will often find several references to what is considered grounds for termination or a “terminable offense”. These actions, behaviors, statements often fall into the category of employee conduct as it relates to company expectations. But how do you determine when the final line has been crossed or is it just time for some disciplinary action?

A good rule of thumb in drafting policies is to avoid vague language especially when it involves termination of employment.  In the current litigious environment surrounding workplace issues and actions it is critical to protect your business while addressing those things that are detrimental.

Case Study #1

Supervisor has observed an employee violate the company policy regarding attire for the last 3-4 months but is uncomfortable with taking action. He reports concerns to department manager who raises the issue to the Safety Manager and Human Resources to seek some guidance on next steps. It’s clearly communicated that the shoes worn by Employee A are inappropriate for job duties but despite “subtle” conversations nothing has changed.  If the issue is left unaddressed it could result in a slip, fall, safety incident (spill of harmful substance) and subsequent Workers Compensation issue.

 
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Case Study 2

Owner runs a retail establishment with several part time workers under the age of 21, high school and college students are a large percent of the workforce. In order to accommodate changing schedules every few months, shifts are staggered with opening assigned to select individuals.  Employee A (age 29) does not attend school, works full time with availability from 6a – 6p as needed.  However Employee A arrives at least 25 minutes late 2x per week and opening duties are actually performed by Employee B. Employee B also clocks in for Employee A at their scheduled time. She feels bad about it since it was her referral and is aware that “he has a lot going on”…..”  Which one do you fire or both?

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These scenarios and the multiple variations of it play out every day in companies with no simple answer at hand.  As an employer the cookie cutter option does not work since specific circumstances may change your responsibilities and/or allowable actions. 

When evaluating your options and outcomes keep in mind:

  • Are incidents documented and verifiable?

  • Do I have an attendance, timekeeping or other policy that has been clearly communicated and subsequently violated?

  • What’s the appropriate disciplinary action?

  • Will my business operations suffer from this employment decision? What’s the right timing?

Once an employment issue has been identified timely, appropriate action will go a long way in preserving productivity, morale and overall successful operations.  If you employ the “head in the sand” approach the problem will probably only get worse while you wait for resolution or a sudden change in work ethic (don’t hold your breath….).

Be decisive and remain compliant with the rules and regulations that protect your company. At all costs you want to avoid the dreaded letter from an attorney or hearing with the Department of Labor.

When in doubt seek guidance from a reputable source sooner than later.

Nicole Mitchell