Supervisor having a tough conversation with an employee regarding discipline and termination

Introduction to Discipline and Termination

Terminating an employee, whether for misconduct or a reduction in force, is never a pleasant task.  However, at times it is a necessary part of managing a workforce.  Voluntary termination by an employee through resignation or retirement may not carry the negative stigma of an involuntary termination, but it does trigger certain responsibilities for the employer.

Involuntary Termination

Each step in the process of terminating an employee should be carefully executed.  Each step must be carefully and thoroughly documented.  If an employee is discharged for poor performance and later sues alleging discrimination, the employer will have a difficult time defending if the personnel file is devoid of any documentation of the poor performance over a reasonable period of time.

Note: Terminating an employee is a very sensitive matter, requiring careful communication and documentation to avoid potential lawsuits or other future problems. It is prudent to consult an employment law attorney or HR specialist before taking any specific steps should the need to terminate an employee arise.

Although “at will” employment is common to virtually all states, employees do have substantial statutory protection as well as remedies found in judicially recognized exceptions to the at will employment rule.

Statutory Protections

  • Federal law prohibits any adverse employment action based on race, color, sex (including pregnancy and certain protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals), age, national origin, disability, military service or genetic information.
  • Federal law further prohibits adverse employment action because an employee:
    • Participates in an investigation or proceeding related to a claim of discrimination, or opposes discriminatory conduct.
    • Reports violations of wage and hour laws, such as minimum wage and overtime.
    • Reports workplace safety violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  • State and local laws often prohibit discrimination based upon such factors as marital status as well as the factors contained in the federal legislation.
  • Employees of employers with more than 50 employees have the right to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  Some states provide such protection as well, often covering smaller employees.  Many states also provide job-protected military leave.
  • Voting leave under state law.
  • Jury and witness leave under state law.
  • Terminations which may be construed to be implemented to avoid payment of benefits under a plan covered by ERISA.
  • COBRA continuation coverage of group health care benefits or state “mini-COBRA” benefits.
  • The right to notice by larger employers of certain mass layoffs under the WARN Act, which requires advance notice to employees terminated as a result of a plant closing or mass layoff.

Although this list is not exhaustive, you can see the need for sound HR practices regarding termination, because there are many potential pitfalls for employers surrounding terminations.

The Termination section covers:

group of employees in business suits smiling and listening to someone speaking

Motivating Employees

Successfully motivating your employees will help you achieve and maintain business goals. Ultimately, you want to create an environment that allows your employees to meet or exceed expectations, do their best and feel valued. While employees are clearly motivated by tangible rewards such as salary and promotion, there are more intangible factors such as mentoring, personal and professional growth and the ability to work on independent projects.

Motivational Drivers

We are all individuals with different needs and aspirations, so what motivates one employee may not motivate another. Creating a work environment which includes a range of motivators can result in improved performance as well as increased retention and enthusiasm for the company.

The following is a brief summary of different motivators:

  • Opportunities for promotion
  • Giving employees the freedom to work independently
  • Challenging and satisfying projects
  • Personal and professional growth – training and professional development
  • Status/power which can be represented in a job title
  • Responsibility and trust by allowing employees to work without unnecessary supervision
  • Promoting the building of relationships with colleagues and customers
  • Recognition of employees’ performance and contribution
  • Financial rewards and incentives
  • Flexible work arrangements that allow employees to accommodate personal needs

How to Motivate Your Employees

These strategies may motivate your employees to contribute to your businesses performance:

  • When the jobs are more challenging and interesting, employees may find they feel more accomplished and satisfied.
  • Consider lateral moves if you can’t promote employees. Many times, people like to do different jobs to build their skills and knowledge.
  • Get to know your employees–learn about their interests and what is important to them.
  • Recognize employees’ efforts and achievements by personally thanking them for a job well done.
  • Publicly recognize your employees by highlighting achievements at meetings, and on the company intranet.
  • Create opportunities for social interaction such as a company sports team.