What is termination for cause?

Termination for cause is immediate termination prompted by breaking the code of acceptable workplace behavior—like possession of an unapproved weapon at work or a hand in the till or endangering the health and safety of coworkers.

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Employment at will theoretically gives you freedom to fire workers whenever you wish. But unless you have a good reason for termination, you may be vulnerable to a lawsuit claiming the firing was unfair. Such legal cases usually charge that the termination was due to racial or age or other bias. Unless this charge can be proved, there is no case.

What is the best way to conduct a termination meeting?

A termination meeting should last no more than ten to fifteen minutes and have the sole purpose of conveying the decision to terminate the employee. For the meeting, you should:

- Prepare what you will say ahead of time.

- Give an adequate reason for the discharge.

- Allow the employee to have his say.

- Make it clear that the decision is final.

- Briefly run through the benefits.

- Suggest that the individual go to the Human Resources Department with further questions.

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Given today's electronic workplace, there are employees who have been fired by telephone and e-mail, which shows tremendous lack of respect for the employee. Termination should be done in a face-to-face meeting with the employee. For the meeting itself, choose a neutral setting like a conference room where coworkers won't overhear the conversation. Your office may be too visible. Also, once you have spoken to the employee, he may become so emotional that you may have no way to free yourself from the employee's presence without literally asking her to leave. Which can only add to the emotion at the time.

Once you are seated together, be direct and focused. While you should communicate in body language that you know that being fired has a profound impact on one's life, gird yourself to be the bearer of the bad news. While no one wants to stay to hear any emotional outbursts that follow, unless you are fearful about the person's reaction, listen to the employee. Allow her to vent for a while. Beware of a diatribe that carries on overly long. A firing meeting that lasts more than twenty minutes becomes increasingly unproductive.

If the employee seems to need more time with you, you might offer, "This news is a lot to digest right now." Suggest that you meet later—even a few days from then to discuss the particulars of what went wrong. At that time, you may want to have a third party present. Or you might recommend that the employee write down her thoughts in a letter or memo. Either signals to the employee your willingness to listen to and take seriously her feelings. At the same time, it is important that you make clear that the decision won't be changed.

Further, as tempted as you may be to put the blame on some corporate plan like a desire to reorganize or downsize, don't use this reason unless it is absolutely true. Even though it may seem less judgmental or less accusatory, it may have costly consequences if the fired employee chooses to take the decision to court, claiming it was a discriminatory decision. Then you could easily find yourself unable to document your bogus claim that the organization was restructuring.

When you are finished, suggest that the employee go to the Human Resources Department to find out more about the benefits available to her. After that, you might suggest that the employee may want to take the day off. In most cases, you want to make the day that you deliver the news the employee's last day on the job. This is easier said than done. Many employees will want to come to their workspace or cubicle and pack their personal belongings. You might want to suggest they come back after the workday or over the weekend to remove their personal effects. At that time, you may want someone on staff present to be sure that only personal items are removed, not company property.

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