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Immediate Termination vs. Progressive Discipline
While grounds for immediate dismissal vary from employer to employer, violations of certain policies can lead to an employee's quick exit from most companies. For example, violations of anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and anti-retaliation policies may justify immediate termination following an investigation. In addition, violations of an employer's confidentiality policy, code of conduct, conflicts-of-interest policy, workplace safety policy and workplace violence policy may also warrant immediate termination. Violations of these policies, if sufficiently egregious, may create potentially substantial legal exposure for the employer. Such violations also may pose a risk of potentially serious physical and emotional harm to employees. Addressing these situations on a case-by-case basis, with prompt and thorough investigation, rather than adopting blanket, zero-tolerance policies is recommended. With substantiation of the conduct having occurred, some other examples of misconduct that might justify immediate termination include possession of weapons in violation of company policy, falsification or destruction of company records, use of illegal drugs while working, clear violations of the law, and a manager's retaliation against an employee who made an internal complaint. Whether circumstances justify immediate termination can also depend on the specific workplace and industry. Some violations are more important at some organizations than others. Employers should also account for regulations and standards of conduct applicable to specific professions, which may include heightened safety standards, duties of care for health care providers and licensing requirements.
To the extent progressive discipline is fundamentally about improving employee job performance, some examples where progressive discipline might be preferable to termination include:
While immediate terminations for poor performance are less common, they may be warranted in extreme cases. For example, if an employee performs job duties in a grossly negligent manner that results in damage to property, injury to co-workers or legal exposure for the employer, immediate termination may be appropriate.Also, if a new employee's poor performance indicates that the worker lacks the basic skills or experience necessary to perform essential job functions, suggesting that the employee falsified their credentials during the hiring process, immediate termination may be appropriate.
Steps to Take During Termination
Sometimes immediate termination is necessary, particularly in situations involving a risk of workplace violence. Employers should be sure that they leave themselves sufficient discretion when drafting their discipline and termination policies. Situations will inevitably arise that will require employer flexibility and adaptability. Employers with overly rigid policies may create more problems for themselves than they solve. Employers should ask the following questions, even in cases justifying immediate termination:
If a situation like this arises and you have questions regarding termination or progressive discipline, please feel free to contact our office at (615) 446-3303.