When HR Is the Last to Know

If you’ve worked in employee relations for any length of time, you’ve probably been asked to help a manager terminate an employee. And, of course, it needs to happen, like, yesterday.

Sometimes these situations involve ongoing medical leave and the manager didn’t tell HR, which resulted in the employee’s remaining eligible for job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). So, we must now, for example, designate FMLA leave and add another 12 weeks to whatever length of time the employee has already been out. This will certainly frustrate managers even more and can lead to that all-too-familiar love-hate relationship with HR.

In difficult employee relations situations, we generally go in swinging like Rocky on management’s behalf. We gather historical evidence, dates, and discussions the manager had with the employee, such as those that might translate to verbal warnings and e-mails that were exchanged providing feedback about a project, errors, and so on. Ultimately, writing these events into the final termination document can feel like drafting a report on the history of the Cold War or a seriously late college term paper!  

In many of these situations, HR isn’t made aware of any problems until days, weeks, or, sometimes, months after the initial events that led to a seemingly sudden decision. A manager might have given everything she had and become fed up when to HR it’s new information.

Whether relating to an employee who has been on an unofficial, extended leave or an employee who has had ongoing, undocumented performance problems, we are usually called upon to take care of the termination.

Performing involuntary terminations is tough, and not many people enjoy delivering this information. No matter how bad employees might be at their job, not many people want to be the messenger.

So how do we fix this problem, hoping to avoid experiencing it in the future? We do it by strengthening our relationship with managers and increasing our interactions with them.

Schedule weekly check-ins with your managers to go over any employee relations issues on their mind. These conversations don’t need to include only those on the naughty list but could include discussing employees who might benefit from career development or skills training or may be due for a promotion.

It’s one thing to hold training for managers on employee relations issues, but the next step is to be their partner. And through this partnership, we ultimately pave the way for managers to know when to reach out to HR and when to apply the people management skills they’ve acquired.

If you want to know more about addressing tricky terminations or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!

SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM’s HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries. We receive questions from HR professionals on a wide range of topics from COVID-19 to termination.


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