Who’s Firing Whom?

by: Ian K. McEwen

Sooner or later, employers and employees face the issue of dealing with a career adjustment! Whose fault is it?

At some point in time during our working careers, we may all be in a Donald Trump-like situation waiting for the verdict – You’re Fired! It certainly may come as a shock, and we inevitably look around and start pointing fingers. We ask ourselves the question: What did I do wrong? Why didn’t I see this coming? And don’t think this is one-sided. Companies can dismiss employees, and employees can fire their employers. So why did you let it get to this point?

We all know that employee turnover has many negative effects on our businesses. Many staff reorganizations are the result of mergers and acquisitions – a company gets sold, and the new owner wants to bring in his own people. From our experience, most of our candidates tell us they want to make a career change because of low compensation, lack of appreciation of their contribution, weak career development opportunities, discontent with their supervisor, or just plain boredom. When an employee is replaced, employers are often saddled with spending time and money evaluating and training replacements. There is also lost productivity and quality of work, and morale issues from upset employees.

Employee terminations are a part of business life. The best approach for the employer and employee is to make this difficult situation a win-win in a positive and respectful way. Open and honest communication is the recommended tact. In most high performing progressive companies, regular two-way management/employee communication is practised especially during performance reviews.

If your company’s business model is focused on appealing and catering to your customer’s needs, why would you not take the same approach with your employees? Management should be open and receptive to employee requests for career assessment/issues meetings. For your protection, both employers and employees need to prepare for these important meetings by writing down the points of discussion. Employers should allow the employee the time and latitude to communicate the recent changes and issues that have precipitated this meeting. From an employee perspective, you will want to outline and detail the specific contributions you have made to the success of your company. If the employee/employer relationship is worth saving, be prepared to consider options, and work to find common ground to alleviate the key concerns – changing reporting structure, re-assigning the employee to another department, providing more flex time or an alternative work schedule, or allowing the employee to become a contract worker. The employer may also consider specific training programs to get the relationship back on track.

These career discussions should be open, frank and non-confrontational. Avoid friction by staying cool, and refrain from taking an immediate hard line approach. If there are irreconcilable differences, and termination is inevitable, you want to make the separation smooth, seamless and without stress. We know legal remedies are available, but remember, this option is usually expensive, and protracted.

At the point of termination, both parties should determine in advance their entitlements – severance pay, vacation pay, benefit continuance, expense reimbursements, accrued bonuses, and pension fund issues. The employee’s Record of Employment should be completed in advance to allow the employee to register for unemployment benefits. Companies should outline the specific date of departure, including the return of all company owned property. The employer should also explain their policy of providing references – written letters of recommendation, or verbal feedback. Review any non-competition or confidentiality agreements which may affect the employee’s ability to find employment in the same field. Determine the eligibility for outplacement and if applicable, have a representative of the outplacement company available at the time of termination.

Employment divorces, like marriages, can be amicable or contested. In any event, both parties move on. In our next article, we will outline some guidelines and strategies for people transitioning into different careers where skill sets are transferable.

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