Firing an employee is an uncomfortable situation. Most would agree that it is a difficult and unpleasant task. While large companies typically have a human resources department that manages the employee termination process, many small dispensaries do not have that luxury. Therefore, terminating employees becomes the manager’s responsibility.
There are legal and business best practices that dispensary managers should follow to ensure that the termination process is respectful and compassionate. Following such practices will also help avoid a wrongful termination suit, damage to your dispensary brand, staff disruption, lowered productivity and poor morale. To start:
1. Identify behaviors that are unacceptable and disruptive to your day-to-day operations. These behaviors include:
- frequent tardiness;
- consistently missing work or shifts without adequate or timely notice;
- disregarding the dispensary’s confidentiality policy;
- violating workplace safety rules;
- misrepresenting qualifications or experience during interviews, on an application or other documents;
- stealing or misusing company resources, theft of product, intellectual property, supplies and cash;
- destroying dispensary property;
- making threats or acting in a way to create physical harm to others; and
- participating in sexual harassment or creating a hostile work environment.
These are worrisome and potentially dangerous behaviors that warrant employee termination. You would be well within your legal rights terminating an employee for any one of these reasons, as these behaviors violate many workplace laws. Not identifying and addressing them immediately could put your business and staff in jeopardy.
What if the Person Doesn’t Fit Into My Dispensary Culture?
How do you know when to terminate an average worker who can’t engage with your dispensary’s values? This situation can occur often with new hires: They have the skills to do the job, but their personalities don’t mesh with the other staff.
2. Ask yourself the following questions to help determine if it is time to let an employee go.
- Are you spending much of your time correcting their mistakes or actions?
- Has the employee shown an inability to change behaviors?
- Are other employees overworked because the employee in question continues to miss performance targets?
- Has the behavior continued despite corrective actions?
- Does the employee fail to contribute to team efforts?
If you are spending more time with a problem employee rather than encouraging your top performers, it might be time to consider initiating termination. But, before doing anything crazy:
3. Remember that, legally, the dispensary manager can only address an employee’s work performance or workplace conduct that negatively affects the business.
4. Don’t refer to personal or cultural differences. There must be no discrimination.
5. Don’t initiate the termination if a thorough and careful review of all facts has not been conducted. If you begin the termination process without reviewing the facts, you could be walking into a wrongful termination suit. A review might include examining all or some of the following:
- evidence based on “he said/she said”;
- previously established and documented record of satisfactory performance;
- absences/tardiness associated with taking leave under the Family Leave Medical Act (FMLA) and subjective reasons not substantiated by written documentation; and
- if the dispensary doesn’t have an Employee Handbook, or cannot assure itself that the employee has read, understands and has been provided a copy of dispensary procedures.
What Actions Are Necessary BEFORE the Termination Process is Initiated?
Before starting the termination process, the dispensary manager should ensure, at minimum, the following:
6. The dispensary’s written job offer and/or employee agreement has clear language stating you are an at-will employer and you have the right to terminate an employee at any time.
7. The dispensary has a consistent, standard, written termination policy that states the potential reasons for employee dismissal.
8. The employee handbook clearly articulates your dispensary’s expectations regarding workplace behavior. Be certain there is clear and consistent information in the book about employment practices and policies, office hours, workplace conduct, anti-discrimination, bullying and harassment policies.
9. A review of the on-boarding process for new hires to ensure:
- The job description, role, responsibilities, tasks and expectations are aligned.
- The employee has a good understanding of how to work as part of a team.
- New employees are introduced and integrated into the existing staff.
- Company goals are articulated, and each employee understands how they contribute to them.
- Managers and supervisors foster an inclusive work culture.
- Employees have provided written acknowledgment they have received and understand the company policies in the employee handbook.
- Employees know what resources are available to help them be successful.
10. The employee has been spoken to. If the employee is missing performance targets or not contributing to the team as expected, the manager is entitled to ask why the employee is performing poorly. Invite the employee to tell you if they perceive a problem, and if so, what they think might be done about it. At this meeting, it is critical for the manager to clearly articulate what is expected and what can happen if the employee continues to under-perform. Because employee turnover is costly and has negative impacts to the dispensary’s business, termination should always be considered as the final action in a series of progressive disciplinary efforts.
11. There is documentation backing the decision. Performance issues and all attempts to correct the employee’s behavior need to be recorded with dates of corrective actions. Have regular performance reviews with all employees and keep notes to avoid the appearance of discrimination or unfair treatment of one employee.
12. The employee has been provided at least one Employee Warning Letter demonstrating performance issues. The employee should be provided with enough time to rectify their poor performance. An Employee Warning Letter is a formal document also known as a letter of reprimand. A warning letter is commonly used in conjunction with a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
13. Consult your state’s Labor Office (refer to the U.S. Department of Labor website) to determine relevant employment laws in the state(s) your dispensaries operate.
What Are Best Practices for Firing an Employee?
Before the official termination meeting, there are preparations the dispensary manager might take to make the process go smoothly. However, don’t assume the termination process will go as planned. A termination is a stressful event. Follow these steps to ensure the meeting stays on track.
14. Remove emotion from the decision-making process and prepare for the meeting. Have a plan. Prepare documents in advance and have them ready at the time of the meeting.
15. Revoke the employee’s computer access during, or right before, the dismissal meeting. This is to ensure an angry employee doesn’t delete valuable information or make unauthorized copies of files.
16. Inform the dispensary security officer of the day and time of the meeting. He should be ready to escort the terminated employee from the meeting room to pick up their personal items and then escort them from the building. While this may seem impersonal, it is the best way to avoid confrontations and theft.
17. Hold the meeting in a private place. Never fire an employee in front of their coworkers. Treat the employee with as much dignity and respect as possible. Also, do not fire someone by text or voicemail.
18. Always conduct the dismissal meeting with at least one witness present. By having a witness, the manager can avoid any accusations by the employee that they were mistreated or misrepresented.
19. Follow the rule of “the fewer words, the better.” Tell the truth. Don’t use phrases like “business is slow” or “you didn’t work out.” List the behaviors or issues that led to the termination decision. Since the termination is a result of a progressive process, the employee should not be surprised because their performance or behavior has been previously discussed as well as the possible consequences.
20. Don’t use language that might imply a different outcome. The primary message to convey is:
- The decision has been made to terminate the employee, and nothing more can be done.
- The employee’s performance or behavior has not met the dispensary’s standards. It is not necessary to go into greater detail because the reasons have been listed in previous warnings.
- Give the person the Employee Termination Letter. (A standard form can be found on the Society for Human Resource Management website: shrm.org). The employee doesn’t need to sign this form, but a copy should be kept by the dispensary. Tell the employee how their final pay will be handled.
- Let them know they will be escorted to their desk and then from the building as part of the dispensary’s termination policy.
- Ask the employee to hand over any keys or access cards.
What Happens Afterward?
21. Secure all documents. All documentation related to employees should be kept in secure personnel files, and access to the records should be strictly limited.
22. Don’t provide too many details. Any information about the employee or the reason for the termination should never be discussed or shared. An exception where it might be necessary to share information is when there has been sexual harassment, physical threats or an incident(s) that involved several other employees.
23. Communicate with the staff. The information to be shared should be brief and limited to a statement from management such as, “In keeping with our company’s policies and the culture we strive to maintain, Ms. X is no longer an employee of ABC Dispensary, effective (date).” No other details should be provided. Staff gossip should be discouraged.
In summary, the termination process should be rational, performed in steps, documented and compassionate. Dispensaries will not be liable for wrongful termination if they avoid hazy employment practices and inconsistent documentation.