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To Fire…Or Not To Fire…

An employee is under investigation for unprofessional or criminal conduct. Do you fire him?

As three clients have recently discovered, this question is not as easy as it seems.

Let’s start with what not to do. One client took action after female staff members complained about inappropriate conduct by a male. They fired the professional on the spot.

There is a proper way to investigate claims of misconduct. The short story is, the client’s decisive action, without a fair, properly documented investigation that allowed the employee to respond, caused significant problems. The misconduct was also reported to the licensing board for their profession. While the investigation was under way, the former employee hired an attorney and demanded a large settlement. He claimed the employer did not fire him the right way. This was probably correct.

The former employee was essentially trying to extract a settlement before the licensing board rendered its decision. At one point, he lowered his demand to “just” $20,000. The employer refused.

Essentially, the licensing board completed its review and this person no longer has a license. The person is gone and no settlement was paid. The employer won, right?

Yes, but. This matter took considerable time and energy away from the practice. Substantial attorney fees were incurred as well. This all could have been avoided.

The other two clients took a different approach. They both suspended the employees involved without pay and allowed the criminal and/or regulatory process to reach a conclusion. Law enforcement and state authorities solved the problem for the clients without any adverse employment action by the clients. By convicting the employee or by the state determining the employee can no longer work in that field, the prosecutor and the state made the decision, not the employer.

If someone else is going to solve an employment problem for you, let them. Simple advice up front saved these two clients many thousands of dollars in attorney fees.

Money was saved, time and energy dealing with the problem was avoided and the employees never returned to the workplace. Now that is a win for the employer!

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