No one hires an employee with the intention of firing them someday. However, in the course of an employment relationship, a lot can go very wrong. When poor performance is the problem, and you’re considering termination, you will need a practical and fair process to help reduce your liability.
Terminating an employee for poor performance is often prone to litigation because an aggrieved employee may challenge his termination on two grounds:
- He may question the procedural aspect of the termination
- He may deny the existence of the element of non-performance.
As a result, it is essential to put good processes in place to not only forestall litigations but also give the employee a fighting chance at better performance.
In this article, we share five steps to take before terminating an employee for poor performance.
5 Steps to Take Before Firing an Employee for Poor Performance
1. Document your dealings with employees
Typically, it is best practice to document all significant dealings with employees. This becomes even more crucial when there are problems with employee performance.
Keeping an accurate record of the communication you have had with the employee on their performance will help protect the company should the employee ever file a claim or sue the organisation.
For instance, if the employee claims discrimination after termination, the records you’ve kept will provide ample evidence confirming legitimate performance issues on the table.
Documentation is highly crucial. If something isn’t captured on record, it can be argued that it didn’t happen. As an employer, you must therefore fortify yourself. The following are examples of vital documentation to keep:
- Phone conversations (keep the dates)
- Electronic communications
- One-on-one chats
- Records of unprofessional or subpar behaviour in group settings
- Feedback and complaints from customers, line managers or colleagues
2. Be very clear about your expectations
Forestalling performance problems is one of the reasons for developing job descriptions.
It’s best practice to provide your employees with well-articulated job expectations that they can agree to. This way, there’ll be no grounds for the employee to claim ignorance of your expectations as an employer.
However, if you don’t have a formalized job description, ensure that your employees have a robust understanding of their responsibilities as a part of your team. The key result areas for each employee must be well captured.
In like manner, you must also document your progressive discipline policy and outline how corrective action and termination would occur should the need arise. Again, this will help to ensure that every issue is handled fairly and consistently.
3. Try coaching
Make provision in your system for employee coaching and mentoring. Before initiating the termination process, it’s fair to give the employee a chance to do better by providing a comprehensive support system for the individual.
Never assume malice; it may be that the employee wants to do better and could benefit from well-structured coaching support.
In any case, your employees need the feedback that coaching provides to understand what they are doing wrong before you get to the point of considering disciplinary action or termination.
4. Set up a performance improvement plan (PIP)
Sometimes, even with the best coaching that money can buy, an employee’s performance may not improve. In that case, it is an excellent time to develop a performance improvement plan (PIP).
The PIP must cover the specific areas of performance deficiencies, identify skills or training gaps and set clear expectations for an employee’s future conduct.
It must also state clearly that objectives must be met within a certain period, and failure to do so may result in employment actions (such as termination).
However, remember that the timeline given for improvements should be reasonable. Some deficiencies are quicker to fix than others. Finally, ensure that the employee signs an acknowledgement form to confirm that they understand the PIP.
5. Don’t forget the place of proper verbal and written counselling
Sometimes, performance problems may arise from issues unrelated to task execution. When concerns like tardiness, occasional absenteeism and issues with miscommunication are the problem, verbal counselling is a good first step to take to address them.
Nonetheless, if things prove to be particularly difficult with the employee and you consider a need to escalate the matter, you may then resort to written counselling.
Written counselling is similar to a PIP in that it should clearly outline areas that employees need to correct. As with the PIP, you’d need to detail precisely what needs to improve and how this should be accomplished.
Furthermore, the written counselling document should clarify that improvement must be immediate, noticeable, and sustained.
Be sure that the employee signs this form after discussing it to confirm that they received the counselling.
What comes next
If, after a predetermined period, they’re still no substantial improvements in the employee’s performance, you can then be more direct with the employee in discussing how to effect their transition out of the company.