Less Documentation May Sometimes Be Better When Letting People Go
More often than not, when employers make a decision to
terminate someone, multiple factors influenced the decision. Yes, the
proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” may have been the employee’s
recent string of unexcused absences, but perhaps the terminated employee had
other problems as well. Had the employee been a star performer who worked well
with everyone, his immediate supervisors may have overlooked the absences, or
opted for a warning as opposed to the ultimate penalty.
documenting the reasons for the above-described employee’s termination,
however, many employers will only identify the triggering cause of the
termination and fail to provide a fuller or more nuanced context for the
decision to let the employee go. Especially problematic are those — usually
larger — employers that use “check list” termination forms giving the
supervisor a list of 20 or 30 reasons for termination. If your company has one
of those forms, and the supervisor fails to check off some of the other factors
that may have influenced the decision to terminate the employee, even though
they may not have been determinative factors by themselves, you are likely to
be challenged on those reasons if you rely on them when defending the termination
decision in a subsequent trial.
should employers do? Ideally, your employment lawyer would prefer if each
termination decision was well-documented and fully addressed all of the factors
that contributed to the decision. This is easier done when a termination
decision is discussed in advance with either a seasoned human resources manager
or an employment lawyer. I also recognize that supervisors often have a lot on
their plate and would rather not spend the time thinking about how to thoroughly
explain their decision in the company’s disciplinary paperwork. If there is a
good chance that documentation may be less than ideal, employers may be better
off using simpler forms that simply record the date of termination and whether
the employee is eligible for rehire, which will be hard to use against you when
you explain yourself more fully in the future.
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