The employment relationship is the equivalent of a marriage. The honeymoon period doesn’t last forever, nor should it. While we all know that 50% of marriages end in divorce, what percentage of employment relationships end, amicably or not? Well, how many employees do you know who have stayed at the same job for their entire career? Not too many, right? Nonetheless, today, the stakes are high for the employee and the employer when it is not handled right. When I am asked by either an employee or an employer what they should do, here is what I usually say:
- Do not React in the Heat of the Moment. That’s right. Put all of your electronics down. Do not hit “reply” or “reply all” and start venting. You cannot take your words back. Even if you act professionally and appropriately in 99% of your communications, that one percent or even one e-mail can change everything. I’ve seen 1 tweet of less than 140 characters cost an employee his or her job. Likewise, I’ve seen one “smoking gun” e-mail result in a lucrative payday for an undeserving employee.
- Ask Yourself is the Employment Relationship Salvageable? No relationship is without its ups and downs, so ask yourself is this just a small bump in the road or the end of the employment relationship? I always advise employers that the straw that broke the camel’s back which causes an employee to complain or quit is usually insignificant, so you must look at what was building up to cause what appears to be an insignificant event.
- Fully Analyze Legal Exposure. Of course, anyone can sue, but no matter who I represent, there is no substitute for consulting with an Employment Attorney who can immediately analyze whether there are any colorable legal claims that can be raised and advise, either the employee or employer, of what to do next.
- Consider the Consequences of Every Act. Employees must consider the financial and emotional consequences of how they respond and if they are ending an employment relationship, how to do so with dignity. Employers must consider not only weighing the risks, but also how the rest of the workforce will respond to abruptly exiting a long-term employee with a security guard, for example. Employee morale is crucial for productivity. Mishandling the separation can have dire consequences beyond the termination of one employee.
- Offering Severance to Help Transition An Employee Goes A Long Way. While disputes arise in the workplace for so many reasons, the vast majority of lawsuits arise because employees feel disrespected, unappreciated, and deeply hurt by the manner in which the employment relationship ends. While severance is not required by law, it goes a long way to pay an employee severance, especially where angry ex-employees can do more damage than good. Moreover, paying severance, in exchange for a full release of claims, gives the employer peace of mind as to its own exposure, which is far cheaper than defending a lawsuit!
The employment relationship continues to evolve, as employees and employers alike, use technology to publicize workplace complaints for the world to judge. We are all defined, in whole or in part, by our jobs, careers and professions, so make sure you do it right. We all want to make well-reasoned, non-emotional decisions that are well-executed to achieve our goals.