What steps must you take before terminating an employee?

Tom Moriarty says take the necessary steps to empower employees before you dismiss them.

By Tom Moriarty

Not long ago I was on a very long trip, about eight hours driving, to take some vacation time with a couple of friends to play some golf. One of my friends is a medical professional, a doctor. He said he had a work issue that I might be able to help him with.

As he described the issue it struck me that this was yet another example of a common leadership and management issue that happens in plants or in any other organization. So, I decided to share the scenario with you as an example that human nature and the need to do things properly is the same regardless of work environment.

The story goes like this: A person who works in my friend’s practice is an extremely irritating person to work with. Her personality is abrasive; she pushes the limits of policy (showing up late) and does not prepare early enough for procedures to avoid delays if even small issues come up. These performance lapses are very irritating to the patients and medical staff who have to reschedule or work very hard to get things back in order.

My friend has been asked to terminate this irritating person. He has some issues with the situation. First, he does not believe he has the formal authority to terminate a person that works for the medical firm because he is a contractor. Because he is a contractor, he has no formal authority to hire and fire people in the firm. If he does terminate the employee he may look to the Internal Revenue Service — a companionate, caring organization …  not — as an employee; this might trigger bigger issues for the medical firm, and for my friend.

His second concern is that the medical firm does not appear to have gone through the established and documented process to inform this employee that her performance may result in termination. It is absolutely necessary to have a documented policy and process for evaluating performance and for providing feedback. It is also absolutely necessary that supervisors use it. Terminating an employee with either no policy or process guidance, and not using it to keep the person informed, or not providing them with what is needed to improve, is asking for a civil law suit.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com.

His third issue, described as, by far, his biggest issue, is his concern for the individual. My friend has been with the organization for much less than six months and does not feel as though he has had the opportunity to work on this person’s performance. She is very competent at the technical aspects of her duties. During the past couple of months she has been improving somewhat. This person is also dealing with some pretty substantial personal issues. She has been working to get herself on the right path, but she probably has not moved fast enough, and she has probably cemented her reputation with key persons in the firm; it will be hard to change their minds.

The advice I gave my friend is the same advice I would give to anyone. First discuss the issue with the firm’s leadership team. Let them know that there needs to be sufficient communication of specific performance issues and specific improvements that need to be made. The firm’s leadership team needs to provide training and resources for this person to have the opportunity to improve. There will need to be a three-to-six-month period within which communications and opportunities to improve must be documented.

Next, I recommended that, given the three-to-six-month window, my friend needs to let the underperforming person know that she is being formally notified that her performance is an issue, what she needs to do to improve, and what resources, such as training or tools, are available to her.

The three-to-six-month window provides the opportunity to work with this person in a formal and consistent manner. It will mean that the employee will need to demonstrate improvement or be processed out under the policies and procedures of the firm. She must decide that she will improve, or she must accept that underperformance will lead to her termination. If she is provided with the opportunity to improve and does not, the firm must use their human resources team, or a person who has the proper authority, to terminate her employment.

At the end of the day any person who is not performing must be notified, provided with the resources to perform, and be given reasonable time to show improvement.

Read Tom Moriarty's monthly column, Human Capital.

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  • <p>My job is at an organization with an "at will employment" policy. Once the manager decides to terminate an underperforming individual, the individual is gone - none of the steps you have described in your article. </p>

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