If you’ve ever had to fire a security officer then you know that it’s not an easy job. The anxiety that some managers feel before a termination meeting is almost unbearable. But many times, what follows an officer’s termination is even more difficult to deal with. That’s because terminating a security officer will often lead to conversations with either the State Unemployment Office, the Department of Labor, or maybe even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). I remember the first time that I had to attend an unemployment department tele-hearing to defend my decision to terminate a security officer…it didn’t go my way. But I used that experience as a learning tool and developed a detailed policy for terminating security officers that kept our company out of trouble…most of the time.
Although you may have your own policies and procedures, I thought I’d share the do’s and don’ts of my system below. The laws and regulations in your jurisdiction may vary, so please consult a legal professional about your particular circumstances.
When you fire a security officer: Do’s
- Provide an employee manual to all of your officers without exception: Your employee manual should include the expectations that you have for your officers, what benefits that they will receive, and the details of your progressive disciplinary policy. The employee manual should have a signature page that the officer signs and that you keep as part of that officer’s employee file. The signature page demonstrates to any governmental agency that the officer has received a copy of the manual. Additionally, the signature page should have language that states that it is the officer’s responsibility to read the manual and follow-up with a manager if they don’t understand something.
- Have a separate page for the disciplinary process: Even though your employee manual should have a detailed description of your progressive disciplinary process, also have a separate copy of the disciplinary process that you can review with the officer upon hire. After reviewing the policy with the officer, have the officer initial and sign these pages to demonstrate that they understand your disciplinary process. Place these pages in the security officer’s employee file as well.
- Follow the process outlined in your progressive disciplinary policy: If your policy is to issue one verbal warning and three written warnings prior to termination, ensure that you are following that policy. Be careful of being too lenient in following your policy because an employee could make the argument that policy and practice are not the same, which can lead to a wrongful termination lawsuit.
- If it is not on paper it didn’t happen: Ensure that your supervisors and managers understand that if infractions are not adequately documented then they did not happen. Always write it up!
- Have the meeting in a private space: Once you have decided to terminate an officer, ensure that the space that you have the termination meeting in provides confidentiality and gives the officer the opportunity to process the news away from prying eyes. If you believe the officer will become violent or disruptive, arrange for the meeting to happen in a place that is suitable for any outbursts (i.e. not at the client site).
- Get to the point quickly: Inform the officer that he is being terminated at the very beginning of the meeting. Although this may sound cruel, engaging in small talk before you let them know will only mean that the employee will be caught off guard when you eventually tell them.
- Explain your decision: Pinpoint the reason that you are firing the officer (i.e. violation of policy, sleeping on the job, etc.). Provide the security officer with any records or documentation that supports your decision. Remember not to be too kind in explaining your decision. If you are overly kind, the officer will feel that they are being fired for no reason, which may again lead to a wrongful termination law suit. Additionally, if you have an HR department have an HR representative there to answer any questions the officer may have.
- Give the officer a chance to speak: I have found that giving the officer a chance to speak and voice their opinion often defuses tense situations. In fact, I attempted to conduct formal exit interviews after every termination. Oftentimes the information the officer provides is not helpful, but in some cases it can be a useful resource. Consult a legal professional on what questions to ask during an exit interview.
- Tie up loose ends: At the end of the meeting include information about when the officer will receive their final pay as well as any information regarding benefits.
- Always have a witness: When you are in the termination meeting ALWAYS have a witness. Additionally, your termination documentation should have a space to capture the witness’ name, date, and signature.
- Notify supervisors, managers, and customers as appropriate: Be sure to be truthful about the termination while also maintaining the officer’s privacy. Be sure to inform all concerned parties, especially your customers, how the officer’s shifts will be covered.
When you fire a security officer: Don’ts
- Don’t violate federal law: If the reason that you are firing the security officer has ANYTHING to do with their age, race, religion, sex, national origin, or a disability that does not influence their on the job performance STOP NOW and consult an employment practices attorney. This means that even if your customer tells you that they don’t want an officer working at their site because of any the protected classes stated above, think long and hard about how you proceed.
- Don’t stray from your progressive disciplinary process: Although no laws require a progressive disciplinary policy, many security guard companies find themselves in trouble just because the officer didn’t feel that they got a fair chance. Make sure that your managers and supervisors know and follow your policy.
- Don’t fall into the constructive discharge trap: If an officer feels that they have been constructively discharged you could be in trouble. Constructively discharged means that the officer felt that the conditions in which they worked were so intolerable that any reasonable person would quit. Factors that might contribute to a constructive discharge are:
- A reduction in salary
- Involuntary transfer to a less desirable location
- A threat of termination
- Encouragement to retire
The important thing to remember about terminating a security officer is that the termination process begins before you even hire them. You must have an established system that outlines your company’s expectations and a system of progressive discipline if those expectations are not met. For more on how to fire an employee and stay within the law check out this article by the SBA.
How have you avoided getting into trouble when firing a security officer? What would you add to my list? Please feel free to leave your comments below.
By Courtney Sparkman