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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Firing Procedures

My organization handed me an administration manuel w/ no hiring and firing procedures. I have a small staff and have had to fire on three occasions.

The procedural steps I do use were gained by asking other senior staff in hallways what they do in this organization.

And I have followed those procedures.

These procedures require a supervisor to be present at the point of firing as a witness. My department doesn't have a supervisor, so I invited the head of HR to attend the event. She sat w/ her head down through out the brief discussion. Body language reading... I'm invisible.

When the work at hand was concluded, I asked her if she was going to walk the ex employee out of the building, she raised her head and said huh...? I asked her if she knew her procedures, and she answered I didn't hear what he said.

I replied well he's walking down the hall. She followed him, he cleared out his locker, over.

Now I'm called into a meeting to review how I mis-handled the event. I have been documenting this employee for 7 months and produced a chronology of same to HR.

Please advise me as to how to respond to this.

Well, first of all, you don't know what "mis-handling" they are talking about and neither do I. There are several steps where a termination could have been mis-handled.

1. Leading up to the termination. I presume this is a termination for cause, as you said you have 7 months of documentation. Was HR involved in this documentation? Was the employee placed on a formal "performance improvement plan"? I don't know if this is standard at your company, but they generally are. Are you sure that the "process" explained to you by your peers was really the correct one? You'd be surprised at how often people think they know how to do something and really don't.

2. The actual termination. Terminations are tricky and I think HR should spend more effort training managers to do the actual job. (I think we should do more training on the hiring side too, but that's another post.) If you started to scream at the employee (I know you didn't), "You stupid idiot! Get out of here!" well, then, that's a problem.

3. Too many assumptions. You assumed that the HR head would walk the employee out. She assumed she wouldn't.

Now, let's pick on the head of HR, as I think she's got some real problems. First of all, what HR person allows a manager to go ahead with a termination without discussing the plan first? Unless you've done several terms together in the past, I can't imagine just waltzing into a term without speaking to the manager before hand. Of course, in my world, HR is always heavily invovled with terminations before the dreaded notification day.

Questions I will always ask:
  • Is the employee expecting this?
  • What type of reaction do you think will happen? (Note, this is generally a worthless question because terms are so unpredictable, but I recommend asking anyway.)
  • Do you think the person needs to be escorted out immediately?
  • Should I place security on standby?
  • Is there anything we should be aware of? For instance, does the employee car pool? If so, how are we going to get him/her home? Has there been anything notworthy in his life? Family or health problems we should be aware of? (This won't change the decision to terminate, but it is important to know about.)

  • HR, or another witness should always be in attendance because what the employee hears is not always what is said and it's important that you be able to cover your own behind. HR should be strong, confident in your decision, and provide back up in case of freak outs on the employee's part. HR should not sit in a corner looking uncomfortable. (How did she rise to head of HR if terms freak her out that much?)

    As to what to say in the meeting, first wait and see what their problem is with the whole thing. Talk about mismatched expectations. Show how you followed the procedures you were aware of.

    People get freaked out over terminations. Employees who don't take it well often call the top brass who then freak out and they want to blame someone. Sometimes I think that if you get too high up you lose a sense of reality. (It really is true, if you want action, go to the top. It's annoying as all get out, but it can work in your favor.)

    Likely, this will all blow over. The HR head is going to try to save face. She will not admit to not being involved properly, nor to being so uncomfortable in the meeting. Don't go describing what happened in that manner. Just say, "In my past experience, HR escorted the employee out. I assumed that would happen here and I apologize for not clarifying roles before." Yeah, yeah, you're taking the blame yourself, but people tend to respect people who do that more than those who force blame on others.


    jaded hr rep said...

    Astounded questions re: termination were never directed to HR (and apparently never thought to do so). Equally astounded this happened 3x before HR seemed to have a clue that 'wrong procedures' were applied. *shakes head*

    HR Godess said...

    I don't know what's more shocking, an HR person coming to a termination and not asking any questions or looking like they are interested or the back peddling of walking a TERMINATED employee out the door.

    Even if the conversation hadn't ocurred, which clearly it hadn't, this is absurd.

    That HR department needs new people!

    Totally Consumed said...

    EHRL gave the best advice possible. If you actually asked the HR rep, "if she knew her procedures", you shouldn't be surprised about being asked to come to a meeting to discuss the mis-handling of the termination.

    You've got to be the bigger person and take responsibility for the situation. Blaming problems on poor training, lack of written procedures, incompetent HR ... while maybe true, will only make you look like a big whiner who isn't ready to take responsibility and be a leader.

    Rachel - Employment File said...

    At some point or some time you made this HR pro angry.

    That's all you need to know.

    Just another HR lady... said...

    All of my managers know (and in fact, want to come) that they can and should come talk to me whenever there is a performance-related issue in their group. Most importantly, it's to discuss how we can help the employee achieve their goals, but secondarily, they know that no termination is going to take place unless we both agree that we are at the point of termination. Typically, if a manager comes to me and says that they wish to terminate an employee and it's the first I've heard of anything, 9 times out of 10 (perhaps 10 times out of 10?), the answer is "no". Not because it's not necessarily appropriate, but because I have not had time to investigate whether or not it's appropriate.

    In your situation, it's not clear, but I'm getting the impression that HR was only involved at the termination point? You say you "invited" the HR person to attend. The HR person should have been well-aware that this was going to take place long beforehand. Perhaps you sprung it on the HR person and it was too late for her to ensure that the termination was at the proper point before proceeding? Just my guess, it's hard to tell without more information about your situation.

    In terms of termination meetings, yes, I agree with EHRL, the manager and HR should go through many discussions about how the meeting should proceed beforehand. If it's a new manager or someone extremely uncomfortable, we will actually do some role-plays, where they can say the words "out loud" that they are going to use to prepare.