We’ve all been there. A manager calls us to say they’ve had enough and want to fire one of their direct reports. But we go back and look through the employee’s personnel file and see that there are no disciplinary actions and their performance appraisals don’t reflect a problem.
This is the first time we’ve heard of the problem but the manager, however, has finally had enough of their direct report’s poor performance or conduct and is ready to fire them and move on. But they haven’t done their part and properly supervised their problem employee or documented any of the performance or conduct issues. They spent years avoiding or ignoring the problems because dealing with them is, well you know, awkward and uncomfortable.
Now the puck is in your zone (I’m a hockey dad). You are the HR pro and they expect you to take care of the problems they weren’t willing to deal with.
What do you do?
I’m going to assume you have a progressive discipline policy in place. You just simply need to start the process. Of course, it should have been utilized by the manager before it got to the point they called you. But, as is often the case, that doesn’t always happen.
The progressive discipline policy I use is Dick Grote’s Discipline Without Punishment. I will cover the details of how I have incorporated this method in a later post but simply put, it goes like this: Reminder One, Reminder Two, Decision Making Leave, and final separation. Of course, the ultimate goal is for the employee to make the necessary performance or conduct improvements before the need to take the next step. I will use this method to describe how to terminate a problem employee who the manager has finally had enough of but hasn’t yet documented any of the performance or conduct issues.
First, you need to meet with the supervisor and discuss exactly what the performance or conduct issues are. Find out from the supervisor if they have any documented conversations or criteria that the employee failed to accomplish. Review the past several performance appraisals and look for any statements that are pertinent to the present situation. There usually isn’t any of this documentation in the scenario I presented above but it is still important to double check with the supervisor. Its fine if there isn’t any at this stage because we are starting the process from the beginning anyway.
Second, write up and deliver a Reminder One and title it an Overall Performance (or Conduct) Correction Reminder. Describe, in as much detail as possible the performance and conduct issues where the employee is falling short. This Reminder is not for a specific incident but rather an overall performance correction so there needs to be several examples of where the employee is failing to meet expectations. In addition to the areas where the employee needs to improve, there needs to be steps the employee needs to take in order to improve their performance or conduct. Finally, there needs to be a deadline for immediate improvement. Usually 30 days is an appropriate amount of time. During the 30 days the manager needs to constantly monitor the employee’s performance in order to measure improvement.
When delivering the Reminder One it is important to inform the employee that the goal of this process is to have the employee improve their performance or conduct and not have to go further. But you still must discus the next steps(Reminder Two, Decision Making Leave, and separation) in case there is no improvement in their performance or conduct.
The employee needs to be reminded that it is their responsibility to make the necessary improvement within the 30 day period. You need to meet with the employee on the 30th day regardless if they have made the necessary improvements or not. Hopefully, the employee will get the message, make the improvements needed and the meeting will be a congratulatory meeting. Often, however, the meeting will be to deliver a Reminder Two.
Normally, a Reminder One is delivered by just the manager but because this is an Overall Performance Correction, it would be best if HR is included in this meeting.
Third, if after 30 days there hasn’t been the necessary improvement, you will need to write up and deliver a Reminder Two. It is basically the same as the Reminder One, but just the next and more serious step of the process. Again, this should also have deadline of 30 days for performance or conduct improvement. Depending on the seriousness of the performance or conduct issues and how the Reminder One’s 30 days went, you could shorten the deadline to 15 days. Again, the manger and HR should be present in this meeting.
Fourth, if after the 30 (or 15) days of unacceptable performance or conduct improvement, you will need to take the next and very serious step of writing up and delivering a Decision Making Leave. This is where you again document the employee’s performance deficiencies and what they need to do to improve. The critical step here requires the employee take the next day off, a paid leave, to consider whether they want to continue working for the company. They are required to write a statement explaining how they will make the necessary steps in order to improve their performance or conduct.
They can also decide to resign at this point. If they return with the document describing how they want to continue working for the company and the steps they are going to take to improve, you need to establish another deadline of 15 to 30 days. This time, however, termination will occur if there is no acceptable performance or conduct improvement.
Finally, you now have all the documentation you need to terminate the problem employee with minimal risk. You’ve given them two warnings with the Reminders. You’ve given them a paid day off to make a decision on whether they want to make the improvements necessary to remain employed. If they do, they wrote up their plan. And if they fail to live up to their plan, you have all you need to safely terminate the problem employee.