What steps should an employer take before terminating an employee for performance issues?
Ideally, termination of employment is never a surprise to an employee who has performance issues. Throughout employment, managers should have ongoing conversations with all employees about their performance, and employees need to be coached and counseled at the first signs of performance problems. In some cases, an employee may need additional training or resources to be able to fully perform in his or her job. Informal feedback and coaching or additional training should be conducted prior to any disciplinary procedures, but in some circumstances coaching and training is conducted at the time of the disciplinary action or development of a performance improvement plan.
It is always best to include written documentation that includes specific examples of how the employee’s performance is not meeting the employer’s expectations and also specific instructions about what the employee needs to do to improve performance. Many employers include a schedule for periodic follow-up meetings for the employee and manager to meet and discuss the status of the performance. Employers should also detail the consequences that the employee will face if there is no immediate and sustained improvement.
Performance improvement plans, counseling documentation and disciplinary action plans should be discussed with the employee verbally, in addition to the employee seeing the written documentation. The employer should do its best to make sure the employee understands the information in the action plan, and both the manager and the employee should sign the document.
If, after coaching, additional training and a performance improvement plan or other discipline, the employee’s performance is still unsatisfactory, the employer should assess whether a final warning or termination is appropriate. There are always risks involved when employees are involuntarily terminated, but following these suggestions may help the employer defend any claims that may arise.