Firing an Employee: Human Resources Issues
The Scouts certainly got it right! The motto “Be prepared,” admonishes members to equip themselves to successfully deal with the difficulties they confront.
And while I hardly think the Scouts were concerned with addressing human resource issues related to hiring and firing and preventing a legal quagmire, the advice, nonethelss, is particularly relevant to managers responsible for personnel issues. Avoiding legal and emotional fallout from a sloppy hiring or firing requires managers to proactively address legal and ethical issues.
Douglas C. Jack, LLB, featured speaker at the October 18, 2012 Veterinary Hospital Managers Association’s (VHMA) Legal Symposium, addresses issues managers should be aware of when firing or terminating an employee.
Start at the Beginning
Oh, the thrill of discovering the perfect candidate!
His or her experience is extensive, the interview goes well, and the candidate has made a positive impression—is an offer next? Before making an offer, be sure to check the references. Also, maintain your objectivity. Employment longevity, promotions, or raises do not prove a candidate is above average. Sometimes a pleasant personality can cover many weaknesses, allowing employees to advance well beyond their technical skill level.
When checking references, be thorough, listen carefully, and take note of what isn’t said. In an effort to avoid legal consequences, employers may not relate the full story. Whenever possible, try to speak with a manager who directly supervised the candidate when you are checking references. Listen to the subtext of the conversation. A good business practice is to require that all references are past employers.
Below is a checklist of information you should compile prior to an employment offer:
1. Verify dates of employment, title, and role.
2. Determine the reason for the candidate’s departure and whether s/he is eligible for rehire.
3. Identify the candidate’s history with the company, noting advancements and demotions.
4. Determine the candidate’s duties and responsibilities, and evaluate how well the duties were executed.
5. Analyze the candidate's strengths as an employee.
6. Note whether there were any issues with punctuality, tardiness, or absenteeism.
7. Evaluate the candidate’s interpersonal skills and the ability to mesh with peers and clients.
8. Invite the person who is giving the reference to add additional information.
Rights and Obligations for Both Parties
Once you’ve done your due diligence checking a candidate’s background, there is still more to be accomplished. Drafting an employment agreement is a critical next step and is essential because it outlines the rights and obligations of each party, including:
• employees' compensation
• job duties
• expense reimbursement
• confidentiality obligations
As Jack noted, “Good employment relationships begin with a good recruitment process that ensures everyone has clear expectations about the role, working conditions, and employment rights. A clearly written employment agreement can help reduce the risk of misunderstandings.”
Employers should be aware that there are some provisions that must be included in employment agreements by law, and there are also a number of minimum conditions that must be met regardless of whether they are included in agreements.
Jack picks up these issues in greater detail at the VHMA Legal Symposium where he focuses on common provisions in any veterinary employment agreement for both professional staff and lay staff, emphasizing both the Canadian and American legal requirements.
If it Comes Down to “You’re Fired”
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, many managers know that not all employment relationships survive “happily ever after.” Sometimes it’s necessary to put on your Donald Trump hat and say, “You’re fired!”
To avoid claims for unlawful dismissal, managers must be familiar with appropriate protocols. Termination can take a personal and professional toll on both the employee and manager. The termination can have significant legal repercussions for the practice if the termination is not handled properly and fairly, placing the employer at risk for labor law violations or a wrongful termination lawsuit.
To reduce the likelihood of a wrongful terminations suit, some general procedures should be followed:
2. Prior to termination, be sure to document all disciplinary action as it occurs. Keep thorough and accurate records!
3. Review the events with others in your practice prior to termination to ensure the termination is justified. In addition,
Hiring and firing issues raise a host of issues among managers. By being prepared for the worst and hoping for the best, managers are in a position to avoid complications down the road. For readers interested in gaining a more thorough legal perspective that covers both Canadian and American concerns, I encourage you to plan to attend the October 18, 2012 VHMA Legal Symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Douglas Jack will provide a full day of insights into the art of hiring and firing.
For more information, go to www.vhma.org.
Christine Shupe is the Executive Director of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. The association is dedicated to enhancing and serving professionals in veterinary management through superior education, certification and networking. For more information, visit www.vhma.org.