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Employee Discipline and Termination - Part 4: Collateral Damage

deliberationHi Brent, In your scenario, the undesirable employee is a toxic person, who has done illegal or unethical things. That is completely different from my proposed scenario, and now we are in the situation where they do need to be removed quite promptly, perhaps even “marched out the door.” 

Many religious organizations fail to identify this situation and want to keep giving the person “another chance.” This comes partly from a mistaken view of Christian forgiveness and partly because they spiritualize a natural reluctance to be in conflict. 

Once the situation has gotten toxic, extra chances and performance plans are seldom-to-never successful. They just give the person time to do more damage. One of the practical uses for the “march out the door” firing is it shows onlookers the organization is tough enough to deal with toxicity and actual wrongdoing.

So you have let the person go and are controlling the damage. What can you say to your other employees? You are wisely being careful because of the possibility of a defamation lawsuit. Even in a regular employment situation, truth is a defense to defamation. Plus, certain persons within the management circle have a “need-to-know,” and there is a qualified privilege to give them information. 

In addition, religious organizations have broad latitude to discipline their members, and also to say why they did so, within (but not outside of) the organizational circle. So there may be things you can say to your other employees, but do this very carefully with your counsel’s advice. 

There may even be situations where you must say something, or else risk being negligent. Remember, one big issue in the child sexual abuse scandal was passing on offenders to other religious jobs without letting anyone know their proclivities.

But sometimes there may be reasons you can’t say much to your other employees about the real reason. Most employers would just let them deal with it. Probably a healthier approach would be to say, within the appropriate circle, “So-and-so has moved on, for some very good reasons. We are not able to discuss these reasons with you. We want you to know that we did not take these steps lightly.”  If appropriate, you could add, “If anyone is having trouble with this, and needs some follow-up support, we will be glad to make counseling help available.” 

If you have built up trust in your team, they will be able to hear this. If your employees don’t trust you, you have other problems. Then you could turn to some positive team-building or problem-solving. In fact, if you brought in anyone from the outside, a team coach or consultant might be helpful. If they address problems that were caused by your departing employee, people will probably understand what is going on. (And I’m guessing employees can usually figure out what the problem was, even if you don’t tell them.)

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

Disclaimer: not official legal or psychological advice or opinion

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