When should you consider forgiving and forgetting the mistakes of former employees?

How many employees have you actually fired? You would be amazed at the number of contractors and supervisors who have never fired a single employee.

Firing an employee is a very traumatic experience that, understandably, is avoided more often than executed. Most undesirable

jobsite employees are shifted from one crew to another until they eventually end up with what we call a "hatchet man."

Many of the contractors I have worked with have procrastinated for years over a non-performer who should have been terminated. As most of you already have witnessed, some contractors will simply "make their jobs miserable," hoping they will quit.

Added to this trauma are today's legal roadblocks that allow undesirable or non-performing employees to use discrimination accusations to justify their behavior. Even with the written clause, "Employment at Will," in their company policy, contractors and supervisors procrastinate rather than face up to those unpleasant encounters. Sadly we also face the possibility of physical violence from a disgruntled employee - especially one who believes his termination was not fair.

If you follow the proper guidelines with plain and simple written "do's and don'ts," any non-performing employees will then have the opportunity to stay on your payroll or fire himself! That is literally what "Employment at Will" designates. That is also the reason why contractors should train all of their supervisors about how to properly treat and control their subordinates.

Examine Each Case

That is not, however, what happens in this great construction industry we call home. Regardless of your age or number of years experience, you surely have witnessed employees who were fired improperly, as well as the procrastination and "passing the buck" with employees who should have been fired.

We are not going to cover all of the proper methods of supervising good employees or the acceptable procedure for terminating a bad one in this issue. Due primarily to our critical craft shortage, I want you to consider all of the former employees you know who were fired, laid off improperly or coerced into quitting. What happened to their careers after the terminations?

  • Did they leave our industry?

  • Did they become good employees for your competitor?

  • Have they come back to work for you?

  • Were they repeatedly poor performers and terminated with short-term employment at other companies?,/ul>

    As you recollect the situations of each of those former employees, you should also consider all of the circumstances related to their termination:

    • Were they fully aware of your rules and expectations?

    • Were they testing you or your supervisor to see how much they could get away with?

    • Did you give them two warnings and an opportunity to improve before you terminated them?

    • Was there a heated argument or anger involved?

    • Could one of your other supervisors have saved that employee?

    All of these questions can be summed up with two thoughts:

    • Was this a good employee who should not have been lost?

    • Could you use their experience, knowledge and skills on one of your jobsites today?

    Don't Rehire Everyone

    I am not insinuating that every employee who was fired should be given a second chance. We have a very competitive profit-oriented business that requires a diligent productive effort along with the pride of producing quality craftsmanship.

    There are many individuals who cannot meet our standards and even more who simply choose not to try. There is a place for these people, but it is certainly not on a contractor's payroll.

    Good people make mistakes. It really doesn't matter whether that employee was at fault or if the company made a mistake. What matters is the caliber of that individual. If he was never any good, you certainly should have determined that during a reasonable probation period or never actually hired him.

    If, in fact, that was a good employee who you really did not wish to terminate, you should consider recruiting and rehiring. Naturally you want to eliminate the possibility of repeating any mistake that might result in another termination.

    Some of you, like myself, have never had a problem rehiring a good employee. When I was fortunate enough to find one, I did my best to keep them on the company payroll. Recovering a good employee was much easier than trying to find another one that good.

    I'm sure many readers can relate unpleasant situations involved with rehiring employees. You must realize that I also can relate some of those negative situations, but the number of successful rehires far outweigh the negatives.

    Handle the Rehire Diplomatically

    Possibly the worst situation with rehiring a fired employee involves breaking your own chain of command. If one of your jobsite supervisors fires an employee and you rehire him immediately, you just lost your supervisor. Without the power to fire an employee, any supervisor has absolutely no authority or respect.

    Should you encounter a situation where your supervisor makes a mistake (in your opinion), you need to have a meeting with both parties present to determine what was right or wrong. You can then take whatever action is proper without undermining your supervisor's authority.

    Your company's written policy should outline your rules and restrictions and be signed by every employee. That assures each employee's awareness of his responsibilities along with proper discipline for non-conformance. Your supervisor can then monitor and measure the employee's performance and communicate positive or negative behavior based on what that employee agreed to when he was hired. In addition, all of their above or below expected performance should also be documented in that employee's file.

    If their productivity or performance is marginal enough to consider termination, you or the supervisor should then have the employee sign a written second notice. This verifies that you have already warned the employee and given him a reasonable opportunity to improve. Your second notice should state what measures would be necessary for that employee to remain on your payroll. You can easily understand how these measures reduce any chance of you, your supervisor or a good employee making a costly mistake that might cause an unfair or improper termination.

    We do have some very serious violations that will require termination with first offense. Your company policy should clearly address these in an effort to prevent any testing by one of your employees to see how much they can get away with. You have the right to establish your own rules as long as they are legal in your state. Normally, these serious violations involve the use of drugs or alcohol, willfully damaging company equipment, fighting on a jobsite or stealing. But you can decide what is best for your company.

    You must remember that we are in the people business and all human beings make mistakes. In spite of whatever you may do right, you will still encounter unpleasant disciplinary situations involving either a good employee quitting over a misunderstanding or having to be fired. Do not "burn any bridges" that may eliminate the opportunity for a second chance for you or that good employee.