Termination Q&A

A recent Q&A written by Nelson Thulin, a Management Consultant at Johnson Consulting. This article appeared in the October, 2017 edition of American Funeral Director™

Q: In your experience, are most funeral home operators prepared when it comes time to fire an employee?

The process of terminating an employee is difficult for many employers, but it can be particularly stressful for a funeral home owner/ operator. Funeral service is a relationship business not only regarding the families served and the community at large, but often in the manner which the business is staffed. These relationships often complicate the process and/or the preparation leading up to the termination.

Q: Do they handle the process well?

Often the final decision is one made out of frustration or follows missed opportunities to curb unwanted behavior or set performance expectations. When termination is a reaction rather than a managed resolution to bad behavior or poor performance it is likely to be mishandled.

Q: How important is an employee handbook in the process of disciplining or discharging an employee?

An employee handbook is critical in communicating expectations, standards of performance and the overall culture of the workplace. The handbook is the foundation upon which success can be defined or disciplinary action can be outlined. However, the importance of the handbook goes far beyond it’s simple delivery. The value lies in understanding it. The handbook should not be a self-study program, but instead taught to all new employees and periodically reviewed with existing employees. In providing periodic reviews of the handbook for the entire team, it promotes the overall culture and possibly reduces the need for one on one corrective action, which many managers seek to avoid. It is important to note, team reviews are not a replacement for individual coaching when required.

Q: What is the first step an employer should do if contemplating discharging a problem employee?

Communication and documentation. Except in some very rare circumstances, the employee should have the conditions and requirements of their employment reviewed along with the consequences if they fail to meet these conditions and requirements. These communications should be documented and can be progressive.
Alternatively, if the circumstances warrant immediate action, containment and damage control will be a priority.

Q: What mistakes do employers typically make?

The most common mistake is not acting early in an employee’s career to resolve bad-habits or promote effective work practices.

Q: How can they avoid them?

Timely, corrective actions focused on the employee’s continuous development can often set a course which does not result in termination.

If these progressive actions are ineffective, the next most common mistake by employers is a product of built up frustration and concludes by terminating someone in anger. If the final decision is termination, the conditions and manner, in which the message is delivered should be considered in advance. Consider seeking the advice of a professional.

Q: In your experience, does progressive discipline work in changing employee behavior?


Q: Do you recommend employers try this before moving on to dismissal?

Yes. It is important to emphasize the “progressive” process should be in the direction of improvement, not simply a methodical approach to eventual termination. Please note, certain circumstances and specific actions do not warrant progressive action. Ultimately, the safety and well-being of everyone in the workplace is the primary responsibility of the employer.

Q: If discipline has not worked, what should be the process and employer uses to discharge an employee?

The previous responses have all been general in nature, but when the decision to terminate has been made the process should be tailored to the specific circumstances.

Q: Tips?

Seek the advice of a professional with experience in employment law. Even when the decision is obvious, the proper actions and the order in which they are carried out may not be obvious.