A tale of two terminations

    Probably the most unpleasant task faced by any employer is telling an employee that life as they knew it is over. The relationships they have formed, the routine of a workday and their sole source of income Ė gone.
   Laid off, fired, a mutual parting of the ways. . . Call it what you will, but itís obviously a traumatic event for the employee, and is no cakewalk for the employer, either.
   In fact, Iíve often thought how advantageous it would be to have an outside service handle the unpleasantness. The company could be called "The Terminators," and cruise around town in a big white van with its logo emblazoned on its side.
   Dressed in slick three-piece suits, professional termination consultants would slither in and handle the firings in a cool, calm, detached manner.
   Or better yet, the van would have a bell like an ice cream truck and they would just drive by the entrance of a company and pause just long enough to make everyone wonder if they were stopping, and then speed off.
   Do that two or three times a day and productivity might skyrocket.
   Unfortunately, contracting with "The Terminators" would be the easy way out and highly inappropriate in todayís sensitive American workplace. Uprooting an employeeís life is a responsibility that cannot be delegated. I should know Ė Iíve tried many times.
   In the end, the inescapable conclusion is that I have to do the dirty deed. I ask Ms. Ferguson, my loyal office manager, to get a final paycheck ready and request that the hapless employee come see me in my office.
   In my mind, there are two kinds of termination. One is for cause and the other is for an inability to meet the standards of the position.
   The first example is infinitely more fulfilling, at least for me. My business is primarily retail, which requires employees to handle cash, which invites temptation, which can cause an occasional lapse of honesty, which will ultimately cause the loss of a job.
   It doesnít happen often, but with 45 employees coming and going, we get a sporadic "bad egg." When we have developed solid proof that the employee was indeed dipping into the company coffers, then I have no need for "The Terminators." Iíd rather do this kind of firing myself.
   It always fascinates me to listen to the denials. Weíll have videotape conclusively proving the employee did not ring up a sale (thereby pocketing the cash amount) and theyíll deny it.
   "Look, Doris," I will say, "here you are on camera stuffing the cash in your purse. How can you deny it?"
   "I could never do that," she replies. Fifteen minutes of grilling later, she admits, well, OK, she did do it once, but thatís all. It just happened to be, (can you believe the coincidence?) that time we caught her.
   Hasta la vista, Doris, and good riddance. The amount she admitted taking is never enough to prosecute so all we can do is fire her. I give her my usual speech about how what she did is no different from robbing a bank but, as usual, it goes right over her head. It is different, she is thinking. You can go to jail for robbing a bank.
  Finally, I simply tell her I hope sheís learned a valuable lesson and I show her the door. We canít give her a second chance because itís likely the only lesson she learned was how to avoid detection.
   While that kind of termination is almost a cleansing experience, the second example is just plain miserable. Itís also much more common.
   Iíve been through it so many times. An employee is no longer producing. For the benefit of everyone, itís time for a change, and everyone knows it, including the employee. All they need is a little push.
   They walk into my office, smiling, oblivious to their world crashing in around them. Half an hour or even an hour later, they walk out, reeling. But first they stop to shake my hand and thank me for the opportunity to work for the company.
   How do I do it? Iíd like to believe the employee listened intently to my speech about all their positive attributes and how they could be very successful in the right position with the right company. Or how sometimes the best thing that can happen to a person is to be fired from the rut in which they were existing.
   All true, but all fluff. What really softens the blow is the generous severance pay package I give to key employees when we have a mutual parting of the ways.
   It beats paying "The Terminators."


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