Yes, terminating an employee is extraordinarily difficult for managers, even more so than conducting performance appraisals. The manager knows how disappointing, upsetting, and potentially humiliating this is for the employee being terminated. But in all likelihood, the termination will not be a tremendous surprise to the employee who has already been through steps of progressive discipline. Additionally, the manager has to do what is right for the organization and its other employees, because the person being terminated might not have been performing well and/or been non-collegial and thus left other employees holding the bag. Still, the manager will likely be anxious about it, knowing what is at stake for the employee and in knowing that one result of the termination action could be retaliatory litigation. This is why that among other things, proper documentation is essential.
Mitchell and Koen review this in an insightful commentary.1 They describe how poorly documented events and discussions can create legal “landmines” from which the employer may not recover if the former employee sues. Language used in documents must be clear and accurate and contain no inflammatory rhetoric. Documentation should provide compelling evidence of fairness, notice, and consistency—the hallmarks of any sound employment decision. The authors then provide sample memoranda related to job performance issues such as one documenting poor patient counseling and customer service. The memo states that the supervisor is confident that the employee can be successful but that a commitment needs to be made to improve. It provides a patient complaint and requires the employee to list 3 specific things they commit to do to address past performance issues. The sample complaint reads as follows: “We have received a complaint from a patient who told us that you were rude to her and did not seem to care if she was ever helped. Well-cared-for patients are critical to our success as a health care provider. Please list 3 things that you will do in the future to keep our patients properly cared for and to avoid any more complaints”. The authors of the article also go on to provide a sample separation checklist and sample exit interview form should this and/or other warnings prove ineffective in improving the employee’s performance.
Proper documentation that is clear, accurate, assertive, and without inflammatory rhetoric will help protect the manager and the organization. It also serves to help the disciplined and even the terminated employee with feedback they can learn from in the future with other employers.
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1Mitchell MS, Koen CM. Rightful discharge: Making “termination” mean it’s REALLY over Part 2—Proper documentation. Health Care Manager. 2016;35:113-117.