We looked earlier this month at the challenges of hiring in such a tight labor market. Today, it’s time to look at the other end of employment, when it’s sometimes necessary to separate with an employee for performance reasons.


At a recent Brain Trust we heard from our HR partner, All Things HR, about the steps employers need to take throughout the course of employment. In the best case, these steps can prevent the need for termination, but in any case, they can help to protect your company and demonstrate good faith efforts that were made.


The first step is to ensure that your company has a disciplinary policy that is clear and progressive. This means that there should be a clear escalation (or progression) each time an employee has the same violation.


As explained at the Brain Trust, many employers ignore the situation or the need to confront an employee about behavior, before just firing him or her suddenly. A progressive policy allows the situation to be addressed simply at first, with increasing documentation or penalties each time it happens again. Termination, if it becomes necessary, won’t be a surprise to either party.


Step two is to ensure that employees know about both performance expectations and the disciplinary policy. Expectations for work need to be clearly explained in the employee handbook, but that’s not all — Company meetings and individual meetings are your opportunity to remind employees about expectations and discipline at various times throughout the year.


According to All Things HR, employers should clearly communicate:

  • Desired behavior/performance
  • Actual behavior/performance
  • Consequences for failure to meet expectations


Step three — you probably guessed it — is documentation. “Has the employee been given clear expectations including desired behaviour/performance and consequences for failure to meet expectations?,” is one of the key questions asked by All Things HR. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate this, along with each of the meetings held during the disciplinary process, with a combination of manager’s notes and signatures from both parties.


As we mentioned above, the goal of a disciplinary process is often to retain the employee, through an honest appraisal of the violation and an agreement on how to prevent it from happening again. Documentation can be helpful in these positive cases, but it’s downright crucial when performance continues to be problematic.


That’s because employers must be able to prove that the discipline was not a form of retaliation. This becomes especially important for employees who have suffered a workplace injury or have other extenuating circumstances.


Finally, be sure to contact an HR professional (and an employment attorney, if necessary) before proceeding with any termination. If you’re an Approach client, check with your Retro Coordinator too. We can refer you to the All Things HR help desk for a consultation.