Before I dive into the single most important piece of advice I can give you about firing employees, let me first say that I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.
Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the most important thing you need to know about firing employees: No one should ever be surprised when they’re fired.
Technically, Oklahoma is an at-will state, which means an employee can be terminated for any reason and without warning (and they can also leave you without warning and without cause). But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea or that it’s the right thing to do. If you wake up one day and decide to terminate an employee and to them it’s out of nowhere, you probably have some bigger issues going on than what we can cover in this blog.
Why does it matter if being fired surprises an employee? It’s about potential exposure for your company and about basic human decency.
If you have the right policies and procedures in place, chances are you’ve had multiple conversations with that employee before it gets to the point of termination. Maybe you’ve met with them several times and put a performance improvement plan in place, all of which is documented in their HR file. In that case, it’s a bit easier to talk about how the employee isn’t meeting the expectations of the job or some other reason to back up your decision.
If you fire an employee without giving them a reason, you leave it up to them to create one. And the reason they come up with could put your company at risk. You put the employee in the driver’s seat and allow them to decide why they were fired and whether it might be worth filing a claim with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). That creates a lot of exposure for you as an employer.
While it’s important to recognize and reduce potential risk for your company, it’s also just the right thing to do to give an employee a reason for their termination. There are some situations, such as layoffs or acquisitions, which may result in employees being surprised by losing their job. But a termination due to job performance or other issues should never be a surprise.
If you need help developing a people management strategy for your business, contact Why HR today for more information on our consulting services.