In 1996, when this monthly column made its debut, the economy was booming. Everywhere we turned, we heard moans and groans about the inability of commerce and industry to find and retain qualified workers. In response, the November column that year featured Web resources that offered suggestions about how employers and employees could connect for their mutual benefit.
Then, in August 1997, this column jumped in again and focused on those online resources aimed at researching your employer and other companies that might be of interest. Back then, it was often said that if you couldn't find a job, it was your own fault. Never one to pass up an opportunity to help those who are still stumbling around, disconnected from a suitable source of daily bread, we ran a self-help column about online resources for evaluating your personality profile in the February 2000 issue. These days, the economy has taken a one-eighty-degree turn. So, now it's time to explore the dark side of the employment game, HR's moral equivalent to summary execution.
Most states embrace a concept called employment at-will, a term that means, in general, that both the employee and employer are free to terminate their relationship freely and capriciously without having to suffer any consequence whatsoever. Practically speaking, the only exceptions to this doctrine have to do with termination practices that legislation considers discriminatory.
We are, however, a litigious society. Even in the absence of such outlawed discrimination, ex-employees still can get the dang fool idea into their heads that they've been wronged. They file suit with abandon. You can get a feel for what's happening to good ol' at-will by reading [I]Erosion of the Doctrine of Employment At-Will[I] by G. Roger Bock, Esq., an attorney at Frascona, Joiner, Goodman and Greenstein, P.C. in Boulder, Colo. His article can be found at http://www.frascona.com/resource/grb699ero.htm.
Perry R. Safran, Safran Law Offices, Raleigh, N.C., follows up with his treatise on the same subject, The Model Employment Termination Act: Goodbye to Employment at Will, which is found at http://www.paintstore.com/archives/columns/smallconcorn/scc0396.html.
Firing an employee
So, you might ask, how does one jettison economic deadwood while maintaining a reasonable expectation that it will stay jettisoned and sink out of sight, making nary a wave?
Well, to start with, if it floats and tries to bite you, it's entirely possible that the source of those irritating waves probably started with some inappropriate splashing about in the employment pool when times were good. What goes around, comes around. The golden rule, and all that jazz.
Calming those potentially unstable waters requires a bit of humanitarianism. For example, you could follow the advice of Mike Aiello, RRT. His article, How to fire an employee safely, is posted at the Focus Publications, Inc. Web site. Click on over to http://www.foocus.com/summer_pages/Aiello.html to get the full details of a compassionate way to do the hatchet job.
But, if you find the oil of compassion doesn't calm the waters, maybe you need some armor to help fend off those sharks. Weblocator is a site for identifying, among other things, labor and employment attorneys. Go to the map at http://www.weblocator.com/ and click on your state. Then, fill in the blanks on the online form, click on "List attorneys," and away you go. A search for labor and employment attorneys in Illinois revealed 3,474 possible matches from the 9,126 lawyers in the database.
It may well be a computerized society in which we find ourselves, but there is a marked difference between the abilities of the common cubicle-bound appliance-user and a pro in the IT department to wreak havoc as they walk out the front door. Yes, axing a digital wizard requires some special precautions. You may not need spells, amulets or charms if you read Adverse Termination Procedures--or--"How To Fire A System Administrator" by Matthew F. Ringel and Thomas A. Limoncelli, both from Lucent Technologies/Bell Labs. You can find their 10-page report at http://www.bell-labs.com/user/tal/papers/LISA1999/adverse.html.
For the more mundane events of this sort, you can find a pair of online step-by-step recipes for doing the deed. First, go to http://www.learn2.com/09/0955/09557.asp where you will find "Learn2 Terminate an Employee," a tutorial posted by Panmedia, Pryor, Okla. Then visit the Association Of Independent General Counsel, which publishes "How to Terminate Effectively," by Edward T. Russel. The document is posted on the Web site of Swiggart & Agin, LLC., a law firm in Boston, Mass. Mouse on over to http://www.swiggartagin.com/aigc/tic22.html.
If you dig into the Web sites listed above, you will have gotten merely a warm-up. The real pot of gold is to be found in chapter 14 of a book by Gregorio Billikopf Encina at the University of California. His tome, Labor Management in Agriculture--Cultivating Personnel Productivity, is available online. The interesting chapter, Discipline & Termination, is found at http://www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/7labor/14.htm. Although aimed primarily at the ag sector of the economy, information in the 30-page document will find application in the industrial sector.
Firing your employer
Because the at-will doctrine is a double-edged sword, it allows individuals to sever the umbilical cord that ties them to an employer. It's an action that's done thousands of times a day somewhere in this country. In most cases, employees who make this move already have a much softer, cushier place to land, where they go on with their lives, never looking back.