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Progressive discipline may fix problems

"You're fired!" Many people thought those words were entertaining, even amusing when Donald Trump spoke them on his TV reality series. In actuality, they can be just the final step in an aggravating, time-consuming problem for many employers.

Managing cooperative employees who want to do a good job can occasionally be a challenge, but supervising workers who are poor producers, have attendance problems or whose behavior alienates customers can not only make your working hours miserable, but can occupy your thoughts during your free time.

In most states employment is "at will," meaning that an employer does not have to be concerned about being sued by a person who is terminated for any valid reason. There are, however, specific exclusions to this.

Because SCORE counselors are not able to give legal advice, you should consult an attorney if you are unsure regarding what those exclusions are.

In order to help avoid potential claims of illegal discrimination or an increase in unemployment compensation costs, use of progressive discipline should be a regular practice.

The goal of progressive discipline should be to help the employee overcome work-related problems and become a productive member of your staff. Termination - the final step - only means that all pervious steps have failed. You then have to go through the recruitment, selection and training process all over again - a task that can be both expensive and time consuming.

The first step is to let the employee know that you have become aware of a problem and that you will work with him to try to correct it. Determine at this time if the worker's performance is a result of insufficient training or if there is any other issue that you should know about.

If the problem continues, verbally reprimand the employee. This should always be done in private. Also, make a written note to yourself outlining the date and what was discussed.

Next, if the situation doesn't improve, issue a written warning to place in the person's file. It should be reviewed with, and signed by, the employee to acknowledge receipt.

Following a written warning, if performance doesn't improve, suspend the employee. The length of the suspension is not as important as the fact that you are letting him clearly know that further problems can result in termination.

Finally, if you see that there is no way to correct the problem, terminate employment.

If you, as a small-business owner, decide not to follow these steps, it is quite possible that you could find that the person you terminated could be granted unemployment compensation benefits that could be charged against your experience. If the former employee is a member of a protected class, you might wind up defending yourself against a discrimination complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

Editor's note: This column is one of a series of monthly columns by Bill Fuller which provides information supplied by the Citrus County SCORE Chapter 646. SCORE, Counselors to America's Small Business, offers free, confidential counseling services to new and existing businesses in the county. For assistance or workshop information call 621-0775 or visit its Web site, www.scorecitrus.org.

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