Bring Back The Pink Slips!

Back in the days of the Personnel Department, the “pink slip” was a notice included with the employee’s paycheck notifying them that their employment had ended, either by termination or layoff.  No one knows when this practice came into being, or how it was even labeled with the color pink.  Even Peter Liebhold, a curator at the National Museum of American History, spent ten years searching for literal evidence of the pink slip as a firing device and came up empty.  But regardless of who or how it started, it became a common-place term that many employees knew of and feared.

Should we literally bring back a pink piece of paper that says “You’re Fired” as a method to separate or terminate employees?  No…but we should do something similar for much better reasons.

In some states, such as California, there are laws in place that require an employer to give their workers a written explanation for their termination when they are being informed.   The employee is clearly told the violation or reason behind the company’s decision so there is no “speculation” or “ulterior motives” as to why the employee was separated from the company.  The assumption is that the written explanation includes concrete reasons, including facts and dates, to clearly support management’s decision.

But, what about those states that are “At Will” and technically don’t require notice to terminate an employee or provide a reason?  You are not as protected as you think.  Remember, if the employee believes that they were unjustly terminated, discriminated against or their firing was a form of retaliation from their manager, they will have ground to file not only an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint but also a lawsuit for unlawful termination.

Some employers fear giving a written explanation for termination of employment.  They worry that somehow the employee will find a way to use it against them so they feel its easier – and safer – to simply cut ties and leave it at that.  Except, sometimes it doesn’t end that easily.

So, why “bring back the pink slip?”

Bottom line: You are creating a final piece of documentation that will be valuable if you have argue why a termination should be help both in court and with unemployment (if terminated for cause).

The best reason, however, is it serves as a final “catch” for management and HR to ensure that the process was handled correctly and legally.  Think about it – How many managers have terminated employees in the heat of the moment?  At that point, words are exchanged – words that can later be used against the company.  Add to that, if the employee had never been previously counseled or reprimanded but the manager simply let his frustrations build up and explode, then unemployment (and the courts) will argue that the company didn’t do enough to address or correct the employee’s performance problems.  All of which will work AGAINST the employer…even if overall it was the right and financially responsible action to take.

Before you do anything!…Have a sit down discussion with the Supervisor and review all documentation in the employee’s file.  If the employee has never had a performance issues and now suddenly the supervisor wants to terminate, you are going to have quite the uphill battle in defending your decision in court.  Claims of “retaliation” or “personality conflict” may be raised in that case leaving the courts to side with the employee.

If you feel you have a strong enough case and all signs point to terminating the employee, then put together a Letter of Termination (or Termination Notice) to present to the employee when you are letting them go.

What do you include in the Termination Notice?

  • You want a clear statement stating the reason why the employee was terminated. Don’t beat around the bush or try to appear vague thinking that will protect the company.

Take a look at your Employee Handbook.  What are some of the reasons cited as to why an employee can be terminated?

For example: Excessive tardiness or absence, Neglect/misuse of company property, Intentional violation of safety rules, Excessive personal use of phones, Taking extended breaks, Intentional violation of policy, Use of abusive language, Drug or alcohol use on the job, Substandard work or performance, Insubordination or refusing to follow orders, Conduct which disrupts business activities, Harassment of fellow employees/customers/suppliers, Deliberate injury to another person, Conviction of a crime. 

  • List previous disciplinary actions or verbal discussions that were held with the employee. You want to remind them the steps the company took to work with them to correct the problem…and word it in that manner when you cite the information:

“We have previously attempted to address and work to correct this issue in the past….(list dates)”

  • List any benefits or pay information still due to the employee:
  1. If you are paying them any severance or unused vacation time, make sure you note it here.
  2. Let them know when their final paycheck will be processed (next payroll date) and how they will receive their check (mailed or they can pick it up).
  3. Let them know when their health benefits will expire (immediately or end of month) and what options they have to enroll in COBRA.
  4. And finally, give them information on how to withdraw or rollover any 401k money they have.

Times have changed and employees are more informed of their rights.  Your best defense – is a strong offense…and that means taking the time to make sure you have a process in place to protect the company.  No one likes to terminate an employee, but there will be times that it becomes inevitable.  Thinking proactively will help eliminate potential employee issues after the fact, so if your company isn’t already doing so – revisit your termination procedure and see how adding this can benefit you in the long run.

Onboarding New Employees: Doesn’t Stop Their First Day of Work

After weeks or months are trying to find the “perfect candidate,” you finally hired that new employee!  On Day 1: they came in, did their paperwork and you whisked them off to their new department to become familiar with their new position and new employees.

Your job is done, right?  Sure, if all you wanted to do was fill a position.

But, don’t you want to keep this new employee past their 90 days – 6 months – even their 1st year anniversary?  Then you have to make a plan to follow up with that new employee directly from time to time during those first 6 months.

Cold Reality

Regardless of how experienced or knowledgeable your new employee is, there is still a “hesitation”…or let’s flat out call it a “fear”…that comes with starting a new venture.  New people to meet, get to know and build relationships with.  New systems to learn because, let’s face it, even if each company uses the same software program (that you made sure they had experience with during the interview process) there will still be little “tweaks” or processes that your company will use that their last company may not have.

For most, the first 30 days on the job is not just learning the job – but learning how the company wants you to do your job.

If you rely on only asking their new Supervisor how things are working out, you are only getting half of the story – or only what they want you to know.  Personality conflicts are the biggest issue that comes up during that initial 30 days.  The employee comes in trying to fit in and make an impression…but how that comes across to their co-workers and supervisor may not be the same.  Then, you also have the reality that the Supervisor will also be “making an impression” so the new employee understands they are in charge…and not all supervisors know how to integrate a new employee into their department, especially if they have always had the same crew or are relatively new to the role themselves.

Benefits of Checking In

Whenever you hire a new employee, there has been a huge cost attached to the process. Its more than just the money you paid to “run an ad” or hire an outside recruiter.  Keep in mind the time HR and the Hiring Manager(s) spent interviewing candidates, on-boarding the new hire with all their paperwork (usually takes a couple of hours that you are paying them for but not having them produce anything for the company), conducting any training that’s needed both on Day 1 and ongoing (if the Hiring Manager or other employees are involved in the training, take into account the cost of taking them away from their daily duties to complete the training), and of course the cost of the benefit package itself that you offer.  Every company will have their own “cost calculation” for every new hire, but a good target figure is about 30% of the employee’s annual salary – to be conservative.

New employees are typically hired to fulfill two needs: 1) fill a position that has been vacant and considered critical, and 2) bring a fresh perspective with new ideas to help grow or expand the company in the long run.  Let’s face it: a second set of eyes on any project is always beneficial to see the potential possibilities – good or bad – and even better when its from someone who isn’t set in the same routine to approach things from the same angle.  But, until that trust is established between the new employee and his new supervisor, that free exchange of ideas probably won’t happen.  By sitting down with your new employee within their first 30 days to just “check in,” you are helping them find that comfort zone to share their ideas and feedback.  Wait too long after their are hired, especially if they are feeling a bit uneasy about fitting in, and you run the risk of them deciding not to share anything and just carry out their job.

How To Follow Up With New Employees
There is no long, drawn out, “formal” process that you have to use so don’t make it harder than it needs to be!  Best way to follow up is to just simply make some time to talk to them.

If you are looking for a process so as to not ruffle feathers, consider this:

1) Schedule a meeting or phone call with the Supervisor to do a “check in” of how the employee is doing so far.  This is your chance to get their point of view before approaching the new employee and also finding out if there are any ideas that you can help correct by proposing a “plan of improvement” before the performance continues to decline or the Supervisor later tells you “they aren’t working out.”

2) Have an “informal meeting” with the employee.  Try to avoid having an actual scheduled, sit-down meeting with the new employee so that it doesn’t come across as some sort of corrective action.  Simply, stop by their department and ask them “how’s it going?”  From there, if questions, concerns or issues are brought up, you can opt to move to a more private area or suggest coming to your office to discuss further.  Even if the Supervisor has indicated that there is already a performance issue to address, start out with an informal discussion.  Remember: if the employee feels they are under the microscope or going to be reprimanded, their defenses go up.  You want to establish that open discussion first so they are comfortable to share before moving it into anything more serious.

3) Schedule a formal review for the new employee with HR and the Supervisor present and do this before the first 30 days is up.  Why? Because most habits only take 20-30 days to firm up so any bad habits you want to get on the table and talk about right away.  But keep in mind – even bad habits may not be intentional.  Remember to approach the new employee (and any employee for that matter) from the viewpoint of “informing” them of the habit, not automatically reprimanding them.  They may not realize what they are doing or how it is coming across.  It also helps the Supervisor to come to a position of “counseling” the employee rather than scolding so that they continue to build a relationship of honesty and trust with the employee.

4) Keep in touch with the employee periodically during the next 6 months.  Even if your company doesn’t have a formal performance review process in place or only does it once a year, make it a habit of just taking a day to “walk the department” and talk to the employees.  This lets your employees know that your “door is always open” and that you welcome feedback and discussions that will help make their jobs easier to carry out.  Its that “Open Door Policy” that everyone talks about but very few take the extra steps to make sure the employees know you mean it.

Your basic goal in hiring any new employee is to make sure that they make it to their first full year with the company.  Retaining an employee after their first year is much easier than during the first year, so a little extra TLC is required.  But its that extra TLC that will go a long way to retaining those top candidates you attracted to the company and creating a culture that will more easily attract new candidates in the future.

Remember word of mouth! That new employee will tell his/her friends, who will tell their friends, and so on and so on…