What precautions should a nonprofit take when disciplining or firing an employee?

Taking disciplinary action or terminating an employee is never easy. It affects organizational morale, taps resources and, if not handled properly, could result in lawsuits.

To minimize risk, develop clear guidelines for performance reviews. Truthfully document employee progress, and track disciplinary measures as they happen.

If you do need to let an employee go, termination should be based on:

• An employee not adequately performing specific job duties.
• An employee violating a written organizational policy, such as harassing another employee.

Generally, a court will uphold an employer’s right to fire an employee as long as the termination does not violate discrimination laws, protective statutes or the employer’s contractual commitments.

Here’s an example. Your employee handbook states an employee will not be disciplined or fired without cause. You have also developed a grievance policy to help resolve disputes. In this case, a court would be more likely to uphold a “wrongful discharge” claim from an employee who is fired for supposed harassment but was denied the opportunity to use the grievance procedure to try to resolve the issue.

If you do develop written policy that outlines the kind of performance that would result in disciplinary action or termination, be sure to describe the types of offenses carefully. And don’t forget to include a statement that indicates that examples cited are intended as illustration only. Finally, it’s essential that you engage legal counsel to review all human resources policies.

Managing People FAQ

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