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Employee Discipline and Termination - Part 2: Maintaining workplace trust

Brent, your question about the “march the employee out the door” termination raises a couple of interesting points, and follows on from a thought-provoking discussion I had with a colleague who works in the large corporate setting. 

He said that in his corporation, the company used to give people ample notice before they were let go, and people felt a certain level of job security and loyalty to the company. More recently, this company had to close a branch office, and they used this “pack up now” method. The employees in question included high-level professionals and other team members who had been loyal to the company—they just didn’t need them anymore. Other firings were handled similarly. What result? No one who works in that company trusts the company anymore, which means they are more likely to act in their own interests and not in the company’s interests—by taking confidential information, using company time poorly, and so forth.

The reasons given for “pack up now” are to guard trade secrets, prevent the departing employee from airing grievances in the office, etc. But the actual result is to erode loyalty in those who are staying—who doubtless have a pretty good impression of whether the departing employee was fired justly or not. Also, if there has been no ethical violation, it makes management look spiteful and vindictive.

Let’s also look at the departing employee. I have known people who were given poor performance reviews, time to get it right, and then time find a new job and ramp up their life. In the law firm I used to work for, sometimes the partners would even help a departing employee find a position that was a better fit for his skills. This approach creates loyalty, good will in the community, and at least some appreciation both in the person departing and in those staying.  

It is hard to overstate the degree of humiliation and degradation that someone feels when they come to work all unsuspecting and get marched out the door. The more they have poured into their life at work the worse their trauma is. The chance that the departing employee will file a lawsuit or otherwise wreak havoc with the organization’s reputation is MUCH higher in the “sudden death” approach. Christian organizations also have to ask themselves whether that is a Christ-like way to treat an employee who is being let go.

That said, I believe there are times to use the “pack up now” approach, when there has been a serious ethical breach on the part of the departing employee. If you know there are ethical problems, it becomes important to do things like cut off computer access and other confidential access. Or if the person has a history of threats or violence, he or she may need to be escorted out.

In these cases, it’s not so difficult for those remaining. Without revealing confidential information, people can be told there was a serious problem. Given the way offices work, they probably already know. Then the trauma is lessened for them, assuming they are not involved in similar ethical violations. Then the situation becomes more of an awful warning, and is actually good for discipline.

Finally, I like your idea of offering counseling if there has been some situation that is traumatizing for people, such as threats of workplace violence or some other drama.

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More Blogs in the "Employee Discipline and Termination" Series: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7

Disclamer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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