Termination Training: How Long Should It Take to Fire a Problem Employee?

I have a friend in a strange situation. At least it seems strange to both of us, but maybe it isn’t. You’ll have to let me know if it sounds familiar to you.

She’s a long-term, in-office freelancer at a makeup company here in New York City. In that time, she has gone through two bosses, and it was agreed in the office that both bosses were not just bad, but “crazy.” Frequent public emotional outbursts over minor or unknown reasons were the norm for the first boss, and now with the second, my friend, whom I’ll call Suzy, finds herself the “crazy” boss’ focus. He stands by her desk or near her at the copy machine glaring at her or otherwise making odd faces, and when she asks what the problem is, he says in an affected, sarcastic voice: “What? What? I don’t know! You must be imagining it.”

Suzy isn’t imagining it as she says many times co-workers will turn to curiously watch this exchange. It is so strange it captures the attention of anyone who happens to be close by.

Following protocol, Suzy tried talking to her boss’ boss—we’ll call him Tom—about this. The first time she approached Tom about her boss, he just smiled and shook his head while looking down. “What?” Suzy asked him.

“He’s not talking to me either,” Tom said, explaining that no one in their work group knows what’s bothering her boss or why he’s acting out because he won’t tell anyone when asked.

At this point in Suzy’s story, I had wonder: If the problem employee isn’t speaking to his own boss, why is he still there? Why hasn’t he been fired yet? Putting myself in the shoes of the department head, I feel like it would be an easy decision to rid my work group of a person no one, including myself, could work with. Suzy says her boss also doesn’t seem to be delivering quality work. She and her co-workers frequently have to clean up his assignments, and she has understood that Tom is not happy with his work either.

Is there an obstacle I’m overlooking keeping this manager from immediately firing a person who is clearly not functioning in his job? That’s when I began wondering about corporate bureaucratic procedures related to terminating an employee, and the training that goes into ensuring this process actually works.

Weeks after the problem was first reported to Tom, Suzy’s boss is still at the company, and Tom just tells her to “sit tight,” that he’s working on getting rid of her problematic boss. Suzy doesn’t feel comfortable asking what work could be involved to get rid of him, so I’m asking you: What work is involved in terminating an employee whose whole work group finds impossible to work with? It also should be mentioned that his behavior toward Suzy, which others have witnessed, could be classified as workplace harassment. The additional charge of harassment should make it even easier to get rid of him, right?

It’s understandable that a company has to protect itself legally by having a certain protocol before an employee can be terminated, but should there be a way to expedite the process for extreme situations such as the one Suzy is experiencing?

Managers could benefit from training that anticipates an extreme situation requiring fast removal of a problem employee. Does your company provide termination training in which hypothetical scenarios are played out, with solutions to each scenario discussed? What kind of training do you give managers to ensure termination of problem employees goes smoothly and quickly?

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