Note to Employers: Avoid the Aggie Way

Note to Employers: Avoid the Aggie Way

The end of the college football season frequently brings the terminations of coaches as schools review the season and their programs.  Such is the case for Texas A&M.  The university fired Mike Sherman as the head football coach on Thursday.  The firing, however, will not serve as a model for employers.

SB Nation reported that the method and the timing were, to say the least, not good.  Apparently Sherman had met with university officials earlier on Thursday about his status; he was given no guarantees.  That evening, Sherman went to a recruit's house and after pulling into the driveway, he received a phone call from the athletic director firing him.  It seems that the university was concerned that its plans had been leaked to the media.  Sherman later commented, " I think we are better than that."  It appears his players and family knew before he did.

Terminating an employee is difficult; is stressful; and well out of the comfort zone of most supervisors. Technology has made it possible to terminate without having to face the person.  Employers have used the telephone and have even emailed employees with the bad news.  No favorable media can come from technology terminations.  Some companies leave the task to others, like the fictional Ryan Bingham, and avoid any contact with the employee.

So what can be learned from the Texas A&M method?  First, do it in person (with a witness).  It is not easy  but then neither is receiving the bad news.

Second, do it promptly after the decision is made.  Some employers want the employee to make the last sales call; finish the project; or work until a replacement is found.  Not a good idea.  Inevitably, as with Texas A&M, something will happen that will put the employer in an awkward position or lying to a customer; addressing questions about  vacations or leave time;  or heaven forbid, be given a request  FMLA leave.

Third, give the employee the reason.  While we still live in an at will world, we also live in a world of state and federal laws creating numerous protected classes.  If an employer had a good enough reason to terminate an employee, it should not be reluctant to tell it.  Chances are it will have to sooner or later.

How an employee is terminated...whether with respect, compassion, and candor or by remote control....may well determine whether it marks the end of the employment relationship or the beginning of the litigation relationship.

For additional Labor and Employment law insights from John Holmquist , visit the Michigan Employment Law Connection. 

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