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Candace D'Agnolo

10 Ducks to Get in a Row Before You Fire Someone

Ensure that your HR nightmare doesn’t spiral out of control.




GROWING A BUSINESS eventually means hiring a team. For the most part, it’s easy to find and train great individuals who rarely cause drama. And then sometimes we have to deal with the ugly side of human resources … termination.

I have employed more than 150 people in the 15 years I’ve been in the pet business, yet still I found myself in a situation recently that I had never experienced. I uncovered something, which required me to immediately remove a longtime team member, who was one of our best.

These are the 10 strategies I had in place, ensuring this HR nightmare didn’t spiral out of control.

1. Know the HR laws for your state and utilize HR services and tools from your payroll company. Some providers like ADP, also have online courses, in-person training and an HR specialist for immediate access. This helps ensure you’re following the law and protecting yourself. 

2. Fully understand your insurance policy. If a claim is brought against you, it’s critical to know how much coverage you have and what steps they require you to take. Agencies like the Business Insurers of the Carolinas specialize in the pet industry.

3. Hire an employment attorney from your state. Jackson Hewitt came recommended to me by my insurance agent and payroll provider because they specialize in small businesses. The law is typically in the favor of the employee, so having experienced counsel can help you make smart decisions. 

4. Document everything. A standard form to document disciplinary conversations with an employee is critical. Start with a “Counseling Record” form that explains whether the conversation with an employee is verbal, written or a final warning. Detail on the form what happened, how his actions impact the business and the improvement you need to see. This will be helpful if a wrongful termination suit is filed.

5. Install high-quality, wired video cameras. This eliminates the “he said/she said” conflict that can happen between co-workers. Save it to a secure cloud folder. Never post any video on the internet and depending on the issue, let very few people see it. An impulse to defend your side of a story can cause more harm than good.

6. Always come from a place of integrity. Are there other people involved in the situation who need to be notified or included in the process? Do you need to explain a situation to a customer? It’s better for people to hear things from you. 

7. Keep things private, but have a witness. When speaking with employees about their performance, always keep it private from their co-workers, but include a supervisor when possible. He or she can play moderator to keep the meeting on point and can confirm facts should the need arise.

8. Put facts before feelings. It’s human nature to judge, to feel hurt, to get angry when trust is broken, but no matter the issue, you must remind yourself to look at the facts when making decisions and when choosing what to say.

9. Keep it short and simple. During a termination, employees often veer off topic trying to defend themselves or keep their jobs. Stay focused by responding in this way: “We are discussing only your role in this situation. My decision is final. I will answer questions only about the end of your employment.”

10. Respect the rest of the team. When talking with employees about their co-worker’s termination, simply state that the employee is no longer working there. Put their mind at ease that their jobs are not in jeopardy and that the decision was in the best interest of customers and them. Remind them that for legal reasons, they should not communicate about the situation with the former employee. And let them know that your door is always open if they have questions.



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