In spite of the best intentions, every employer faces discharge decisions, as a result of many factors. Often, the factors that lead to discharge are beyond the control of business owners, management or human resources professionals. If conducted improperly, the termination of an employee could increase the likelihood that the company will be exposed to major financial losses as a result of a lawsuit and face the prospect of reduced morale for the employer’s remaining workforce.

Is Termination the Right Decision?

Before deciding whether termination is the right decision, management and human resources should review the event or series of events that lead to the termination decision. In the case of a single precipitating incident or event, the matter should be thoroughly investigated in advance.

As the employer sifts through the event or series of events that lead to the decision to terminate, it is very important to make sure that the employee has an opportunity to tell his or her side of the story at some point during the process. This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is to make sure that the employee has an opportunity to provide another perspective on the facts that support the termination decision.

Fair Treatment is a Must

In considering a termination decision, it is always in the best interest of the employer to ensure that the terminated employee is treated fairly. In many instances, this will require management and human resources to explore whether other employees that engaged in similar behavior or practices were treated in the same manner. Treating all similarly situated employees the same is a key to avoiding costly employment litigation.

The Termination Meeting

You have now made the decision to terminate and it is time to communicate your decision to the soon-to-be former employee — what do you do? Once you have performed your “due diligence,” as detailed above and consulted with competent counsel, you should be ready to have an effective termination meeting that enhances the likelihood that the relationship between the soon-to-be former employee and your company will end following the meeting and not result in litigation or other post employment action by the employee. The manner in which the termination meeting is conducted will go a long way in determining whether you will ever hear back from the terminated employee again.

The meeting should be conducted in a private location, with another member of management serving as a witness. The initial communication from management should be short and direct — informing the now former employee that they have been terminated. It is also useful for the employer to inform the former employee why they are being terminated.

While even the most careful employer that terminates an employee for all the right reasons after a proper investigation may get sued, following the steps detailed above, in consultation with competent counsel, should minimize the likelihood that the company will be subject to an employment-based lawsuit by the former employee, as well as to minimize and/ or eliminate its exposure if a lawsuit is initiated. To fire or not to fire is a difficult question, but if approached properly, may allow the company to part ties with difficult employees and move forward to achieving its goals.

Copyright ©2011 by L&L Communications d/b/a Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine, Thomas A. Cox. Jr. Esq, author. Posted with permission from publisher. All rights reserved by the original copyright holder.