Time to move on

Tuesday 1 December, 2015 | By: Colin Fruk | Tags: firing, termination, HR, management, regulation, redundancy;

It'll happen. There will come a time when one of your employees acts in a way that means they simply can't stay on. As business owners, doing something about it falls to you. But there are ways you can make it easier on yourself, your business and the person you're letting go.

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Forget Donald Trump's puffed up catchphrase, "You're fired!". In Australia, our laws and business culture means we do things differently... and better.

Broadly, there are only two reasons to dismiss staff. It's either something you've done - operational reasons like revenue constraints, strategy changes and downsizing. Or something they've done - poor performance, illegal activity or bad behaviour.

As the business owner, it's tough to let people go when they've done nothing wrong. And it can be just as frustrating if the reason you're letting them go is their fault - especially when doing it by the book seems pointless.

Covering bases

Choosing to let someone go can only be judged case by case, so it's no surprise CCIQ's Employer Assistance Line receives hundreds of dismissal enquiries most months. The key theme of our advice is to get through what is usually a challenging time by documenting the process in line with the Fair Work Act 2009.

That's if  things even get that far. In general, firing and rehiring costs more than retraining. Business owners need to decide which direction is worth their time, energy and money. One of the biggest factors is usually the attitude and potential of the worker in question.

If the loss of a job is inevitable, there's a right way to go about it. 

When it's their fault

For dismissal proceedings, when employees repeatedly cause incidents or errors, the best procedure is often counselling and a series of escalating warnings. The goal is to change what are usually not instantly sackable, but recurring, behaviours that negatively impact the business.

For serious misconduct, employers do have access to Trump-like recourses. It is called "summary dismissal" and comes into effect in situations such as intentional damage to company assets, lying, criminal acts, harassment, discrimination and being drunk on the job.

Even in serious situations, like an employee being caught with their hand in the till, we still recommend having rock-solid employment contracts which outline expectations, and following proper procedures when letting someone go. Firing the right person for the right reason can still land you in hot water if you go about it the wrong way. 

When you break the bad news to the staff in question, have an HR expert with you and handle matters in private. Remember too, staff are permitted to have a "support person" (their lawyer, or another person) present when you do. 

"I'm sorry, we just don't need you any more."

The process of letting a staffer go when the business just doesn't need them any more is, of course, very different. Unlike firings based on bad behaviour, redundancies are often subdued and regretful affairs.

CCIQ advises the correct way to regard redundancies is first through the lens of any employment award in place, and then to see if the employee can be engaged to carry out other duties within the business.

Beyond those general rules, how you manage a redundancy will often differ situation to situation, and person to person.

If your business is in these sorts of circumstances, remember that dismissal is often not the only move. If a business downturn means you cannot afford to pay your full-timers, see if someone will accept reduced hours until turnover improves. Even this request needs to be made delicately and in accordance with processes dictated by Fair Work law.

You can get templates and procedures to deal with staff termination here, and you can call CCIQ's Employer Assistance Line on 1300 731 988.

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