International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview

who have engaged in similar activity have also been terminated. Otherwise, the action is clearly discriminatory.

The most difficult cases to prosecute are those involving incompetence or poor performance. These are relatively subjective concepts for which adequate documentation may be lacking (and inherently problematic to generate). Because poor performance is a difficult charge to prove (at least to the satisfaction of many appellate bodies), public managers are often reluctant to dismiss workers who are incompetent. Studies by the U.S. General Accounting Office, for example, have shown that public managers use a variety of informal strategies to deal with poor performers. If they are not simply ignored, many are assigned to units that are known dumping grounds for incompetents (the GAO refers to these agencies as "turkey farms"). Problems of this type demonstrate why public agencies today are so anxious to develop objective performance standards for all positions.

Before proceeding with a dismissal, the manager must be satisfied that the offending behavior is well-documented, that the employee is not being treated in a discriminatory manner, and that the relevant procedures are being followed. Once these questions have been answered, a few simple guidelines are usually recommended. First, the dismissal interview should be conducted in private both to preserve the employee's dignity and to avoid charges of "outrageous termination." In a few celebrated cases, workers who were fired in public settings successfully pressed claims that their constitutional right to privacy had been violated. Second, managers are strongly encouraged to have one witness present during the discussion. Should a dispute arise about the content of the dismissal interview, the witness provides a reliability check. Finally, the agency should provide a consistent reason for the dismissal in all subsequent actions. That is, it should not tell the employee one thing, the coworkers another, and the unemployment compensation office something else. A certain level of discretion is also essential, since spreading uncomplimentary information about a former employee might prompt a defamation lawsuit.

In summary, dismissal is probably the most unpleasant task that any manager will face in a career. It is frought with both personal and professional peril. In addition to the interpersonal tension that inevitably arises, any dismissal can trigger a legal challenge that requires the manager to defend his or her actions before both internal and external review bodies. This problem is especially prevalent in the public sector, where dismissals have been exceedingly rare due to the rigidities of the public personnel system. But, as pressures build for a more efficient and responsive public service, so too will demands for more effective dismissal procedures. Whether or not public managers will be willing to use the procedures, once they have been simplified, remains to be seen.

STEVEN W. HAYS


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belker, Loren. B., 1993. The First-Time Manager. New York: AMACOM.

Bureau of National Affairs, 1991. Employee Termination by Employment Sector. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of National Affairs.

Hays, Steven, 1995. "Employee Discipline and Removal: Coping with Job Security." In Steven Hays and Richard Kearney , eds., Public Personnel Administration: Problems and Prospects. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, pp. 145-161.

Kleeman, R., 1979. "How to Deal with Nonproductive Federal Employees", Civil Service Journal (April-June) 44-48.

Newman, G., 1991. "The Model Employment Termination Act in the United States: Lessons from the British Experience". Stanford Journal of International Law, vol. 27 (Spring) 393- 435.

O'Reilly, Charles and Barton Weitz, 1980. "Managing Marginal Employees: The Use of Warnings and Dismissals". Administrative Science Quarterly, vol. 25 (September) 467-484.

Shafritz, Jay, 1975. Public Personnel Management: The Heritage of Civil Service Reform. New York: Praeger.

U.S. General Accounting Office, 1979. A Management Concern: How to Deal with the Nonproductive Federal Employee. Washington, D.C.: Comptroller General.

-----, 1993. Employee Discipline Since the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. Washington, D.C.: Comptroller General.

Van Paul Riper, 1958. History of the United States Civil Service. Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson.

DIVISION OF LABOR."The separation of labor into its various distinct processes and their apportionment among different individuals, groups, or machines for the purpose of increasing productive efficiency" ( Webster Third International Dictionary). This concept undergirds all societal activities conducted by complex organizations, such as industries, schools, and governmental agencies. Division of labor is pervasive in all human activities without regard to culture, ethnicity, or geographic location. It is probable that what we know as division of labor-- the focusing of skills development to accomplish a single or related tasks in cooperation with other participants -- occurred intuitively beginning with the formation of a family unit. In primitive societies the males became hunters while the females tended to the young and were probably the first agronomists. Each family unit joined with others to form a larger unit, such as a tribe, to improve its ability to survive. This cooperation among members of a group of individuals contributed to efficiency; as the group's activities expanded it became necessary for individuals to specialize in areas in which they had talents and abilities to perform certain tasks better than others.

As societies became more and more complex, clusters of individuals formalized rules to govern themselves. Beyond this, the groups soon noted that they could trade and barter with neighboring villages to obtain products that they could not make or grow. Modern societies are made up of numerous production units, each specializing in certain functions. When taken as a whole, these units fit, some better than others, to form a large complex entity that

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International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2
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