SHOWN THE DOOR the Firing Process Drains Employees, but It Gnaws at Employers, Too

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Byline: Christopher Calnan, Times-Union business writer

You're fired.

They're the words every worker dreads to hear and managers hate to say. But sometimes the phrase is an unavoidable part of doing business.

Employees are losing their jobs at record rates these days. It's never been a pleasant experience for either side, whether it's called terminating, discharging, or just letting a person go.

Like others around the nation, local human resource consultants, supervisors, human resource directors and workers are dealing with the truth -- and the consequences -- of job loss.

A LOSING GAME

Employers don't want to fire workers. It's unproductive and costs money.

When a person is fired, it usually means another worker has to be paid overtime to take up the slack. Also, a replacement has to be found, which means placing advertisements and paying for them.

Then there's the time spent interviewing, screening, selecting and training, said Michelle Corse, president of the Jacksonville chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management.

"It's too expensive to do that," she said. "It costs money to hire people."

It's definitely a lose-lose situation, unless the fired worker behaved egregiously.

"Most employers are much more attuned to trying to keep somebody because they understand the investment they've made," human resource consultant Jim Johns said.

There are some guidelines most managers follow to make the process go as smoothly -- and legally -- as possible.

If the company has one, a human resource manager should attend the discharge meeting to make sure everything is done properly and professionally. But the actual firing should be done by the supervisor, experts said.

"I call this one of the tough command decisions," said Elaine Johnson, senior vice president and managing director of the Right Management Consultants. "Many managers are reluctant to make the decision because they feel like they're playing God. This is one of the things that go along with being in charge."

It should never be a surprise for an employee who has been treated fairly by management. If the worker is being fired for poor performance, he or she should first be given warnings and opportunities to improve, Corse said.

"They should know exactly where they are at all times," she said.

Johns, who has 36 years of human resources experience, agreed. But it's important for managers to issue written reprimands to get the worker's attention. With such progressive discipline, a firing shouldn't be unexpected, Johns said.

"If it's a surprise, then I suggest management did not do their job," he said.

LEGAL ISSUES

In addition to the financial consideration, there's always the legal factors. More laws exist today to protect workers than years ago.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Warn Act, the Family Medical Leave Act are the major ones but just some of the laws designed to protect worker rights.

The Warn Act is the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which was enacted in 1989 and requires employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.

This notice must be provided to either affected workers or their representatives, to the state dislocated worker unit and to the local government. (The law applies to businesses with 100 or more employees.)

Florida courts are relatively pro-employer in employment disputes, said Jonathan Segal, a Philadelphia lawyer who specializes advising managers in such issues.

"I would put Florida as leaning [toward the] employer, but it's not extreme in that regard," he said.

Although non-union workers are considered at-will employees, Segal said they can be fired for any reason but an illegal one. Employers have to treat all workers alike and not single out anyone. …