The unpleasant task of termination is sometimes a necessary but complicated chore.
BY ROY HARRYMAN
This article originally appeared in Data Center Management, published by AFCOM.
''The Apprentice" makes it look too easy.
A gruff, arrogant boss simply leans over a table and blurts, "You're fired!" The employee leaves, silent and sullen, and we cut away to scenes from next week's termination.
Experts will tell you, however, that 'The Apprentice" is any thing but a reality show when it comes to firing employees. But terminating workers is part of the reality of being a manager, and it is something managers must be able to do correctly to avoid law suits, workplace dysfunction or busted budgets.
"Nothing is harder for a manager to do if you're any kind of a human being," said Doug Palmer, president of AFCOM's St. Louis Gateway Chapter. "It's part of a manager's job, and if you can't accept that, you can't be a manager."
Dominick Regina, president of the New York Metro AFCOM Chapter, agrees.
"It's not a pleasant emotional thing," he said. "You know you're affecting people's livelihoods, their families. It is just extremely difficult to do."
With that said, it is important to note that termination -- at least the lawful and ethical kind -- looks nothing like the hype that goes on at Trump Tower.
The Case for Termination
Tom Kennedy, president of Human Resource Consultants in Chicago, likens a poorly performing employee to tooth decay.
"If it starts to decay and rot, we must pull it for the good of the organization," he said. "A lot of people can have technology experience and education .. . but they don't fit into the organizational structure."
Like pulling the tooth, removing an underperforming employee is painful. But essential.
Putting off the decision will not make the situation go away. In fact, it creates more problems, damaging the work environment and your authority as a manager, said Trou von Hussen, senior vice president of Precept Group, an Irvine, Calif-based human resources consulting firm.
Documentation is key
Employment laws generally give private companies broad leeway to fire workers, with a few exceptions.
"It is always illegal to fire someone because of a protected characteristic, such as race, gender, national origin, age or disability," said Calvin House, a partner in the firm of Gutierrez, Preciado and House in Pasadena, Calif.
It is also illegal to fire a worker for reporting discrimination, harassment or other unlawful activities.
With the exception of public and union employment, supervisors generally do not have to state a reason for termination. However, if a lawsuit is filed, juries will likely view such action with hostility.
All termination decisions should be viewed through the lens of the legal process, said House. If a specific reason for termination is not given and documented, the fired worker may try to convince a jury that discrimination or other illegal motives were at work.
"If it gets into litigation, that will come back to haunt you," House said. "The most common mistake is not being clear."
Today's legal climate requires preemptive action before termination is an issue. House advises having new employees sign a job description agreement. This gives a worker direction and provides an effective standard to measure performance.
Regular evaluations are a second key factor. These document deficiencies and show that employers gave workers an opportunity to change.
Everything possible should be put in written form.
"Documentation, documentation, documentation is the most important component," said von Hussen.
Dropping the bomb
Possibly the most dreaded event for a manager is the termination meeting. Being prepared and thorough in a meeting can help avoid litigation and make an awkward moment easier. Make a list of all the departure issues that need to be discussed, such as retirement funds, health insurance, vacation and severance pay. Note all items and equipment that the employee needs to return.
Experts advise that the conversation be concise and non-argumentative. Another manager should be present to provide independent verification of what was stated.
"Make it as gracious and professional as possible, but with some empathy for the employee," said Kennedy.
In the increasingly secure environment of the data center, termination can pose a security problem. The IT insider is now the outsider who no longer belongs in a secured area. As a precaution, security or other personnel may be needed to usher someone out of the workplace. However, organizational practice varies widely, says von Hussen.
All passwords, PIN s and security clearance privileges need to be changed or rescinded immediately. In addition, company information or software stored on laptops or CDs-even at an employee's home-must be returned.
"It's best to time it so that all [company assets] are going to be contained in the environment in which you are terminating," Kennedy said.
After someone has been fired, coworkers need to be informed that their colleague is no longer with the organization. Let them know how that person's responsibilities will be handled. Inform them know that no other terminations are forthcoming (if that is the case) so that no cause is given for worry or rumors. Give these workers no details about the former employee's performance because those statements can later be contested in court.
The buck stops here
It would be nice if the decision to terminate employees could be delegated to someone else. But as the saying goes, "That's why you get paid the big bucks." If the employee with an unbending bad attitude doesn't quit, then it may be time to use the option of last resort.
Kennedy says that if managers take all the proper steps and terminate for the right reasons, they should be able to sleep at night. An underperforming employee has fired himself by not responding to management's call for change: ''As long as we've done it right, we shouldn't worry about it."