Wrongful VS Rightful Terminations


As a manager, I hated having to end the employment of one of my employees.  It is an emotional situation for both parties that is only possible to get through if the termination is a rightful one.  In other words it is a legally defensible termination.

And because of the emotional stress involved in terminations, most organization insist that HR is involved as the 3rd party in the employee-employer transaction.  Left to fend for themselves, too many managers react without thinking things through and land up putting themselves and the company in legal jeopardy.

I love listening to employment law attorneys speak on terminations.   They will tell you that before you pull the termination card out, it is vital to think it all through from the employee’s perspective.  What is the employee going to say about the situation if they are terminated for something that happened?  Are we sure we have the whole picture, or does our termination case resemble a slice of Swiss cheese?

During the few times I had to terminate employment, I was a Branch Manager at a bank.  When bank’s take a loss, whether it is a teller mistake, customer error, or out right fraudulent actions like identity theft, banks like to justify the loss with a termination.  Especially when the employee didn’t follow a particular policy.  Many times these terminations are justified and if the employee had followed the procedure the loss could have been prevented.

But when the company wants to terminate an employee for not following a policy, and even if they had followed it the loss would still have occurred, I start to argue in favor of the employee.  Yes there was a financial loss.  Yes the employee didn’t follow a particular policy.  But hello, even if they did follow the policy, the customer had good ID and an intent to defraud.  Go forward on the termination and we are looking at a potential lawsuit.

Termination decisions are often made by other managers in consultation with HR.  And although complete investigations that involve talking to all parties should happen before decisions are made, many times they happen in a vacuum.  Once I was told I would be terminating one of my employees, and I took the unprecedented position of saying I was not in agreement with the decision.  If I could not sway the decision makers to rethink their position, I determined I would act as the messenger only.

I can still remember HR saying that the decision was made and that it didn’t matter what I thought.  I said, okay then I will be the messenger and relay that the termination decision was made by HR and if they had questions they should contact HR.  Wow, that ticked her off.  She hadn’t made the decision either!  She was processing the request from my manager!  I then said you and I are going to be star witnesses for the defense.

At this point, she decided to reconsider and reopened the case.  You see, HR is the company representative.  They will defend the organization, which is the one that is sued along with any other party involved.  HR has a tough role to play and must support management, but defend the company.  They must exert their authority and not be intimidated. But sadly, not enough HR people stand up to management.

If you think you have been terminated unfairly, write out your concerns and seek out the advise of an attorney.  Don’t waste time begging for your job back after the fact.  Honestly, the company had the chance to do the right thing and they chose termination.  If they blew it, then it is time they learn from less talk and more from punitive damages.

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