The Internal Struggle When We Must Make Make Ridiculous Terminations

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Once in a while in HR, we have to make ridiculous decisions to terminate an employee.

Maybe it’s a well liked, popular employee, or an employee with long tenure close to retirement, or an employee who did something supporting their beliefs but still wrong, etc. Those kinds of decisions come in all shapes and sizes.

But what about firing an employee who was abused by a spouse because the company feared the abuser might come to the place of employment? Yes, HR terminated the abused employee to protect all the rest of the employees.

What do you think about that call, HR friends?

Compromising your true beliefs

I have had to fire some employees for reasons I did not support in the least, but I was directed by a senior executive to do it. Period. I had two choices:

  1. Fire the employee; or,
  2. Lose my own job — and someone else would fire the employee.

While those few and far between times don’t sit well with any HR Pro, most of us are put in that type of situation at least a few times in our career. Do I become a martyr and quit to show my support for this employee, or save myself?

I’ve always decided to save myself. Yes, family to feed, mortgage to pay – does it really matter what the reasons are? Either way, I’ve had to compromise my true beliefs and do something I didn’t believe in.

As Paul Smith says – “Welcome to the Occupation!” (Great HR blogger, BTW. Check him out)

So, what about our example above with your employee who is being abused and you fire her because you don’t want her crazy husband showing up at your office with a gun?! What did you decide? Let this poor woman fend for herself, or are you going to help her and put all of your employees at risk?

I bet a fair amount of you are not going to fire her!

Would you fire a victim of domestic violence?

What if I told you she was an elementary school teacher and her place of employment was surrounding 400 children? Now what do you do?

Article Continues Below

This is from Gawker, and a real-life example from San Diego, CA:

Earlier this year, Carie Charlesworth and her four children were removed from Holy Trinity School after she gathered up the courage to disclosed her struggles with domestic violence to the school’s principal. After what the second-grade teacher’s called “a very bad weekend with [her ex-husband],” the unidentified man arrived outside the school, prompting a lockdown.

She was subsequently put on “an indefinite leave,” and then formally terminated three months later.”

Of course the employer wouldn’t comment on publicly about personnel issues. (I love that HR statement!)

Want to know why women don’t come forward about domestic violence issues? It only takes a few examples like this.

This is one HR firing I don’t think I could have done because — losing my job or not – I’m positive my wife and kids would have understood.

I understand you need to protect all of those children, but you need to try some other things before throwing out an employee and four of those kids on to the street to fend for themselves.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


3 Comments on “The Internal Struggle When We Must Make Make Ridiculous Terminations

  1. Hi Tim:

    I wrote about this case on my blog as well,, and no, I wouldn’t have lost my job over this one.

    The termination really stinks, and I found myself thinking that the school administrators were just cowards, but they do have some legitimate concerns. Also, they may have fulfilled their legal obligations under CA law (I know that doesn’t make it right, but it’s something). Nothing easy about this case.

  2. What a horrible dilemma! In this day and age, when you cannot predict who might come into your workplace with the intent to do harm (and we’ve seen so many examples of this happening with tragic consequences) it’s nearly impossible to make the “right” decision. Personally, I would have at least explored whatever options might be available to avoid dealing this woman yet another blow. However, I honestly couldn’t 1say that in the end, my decision would have been different.

  3. Why not just leave her on “indefinite leave” until the situation clarifies itself? Put her on leave, get her counselling (both personal and legal), help her to deal with it, but from a distance…maybe through a district office to protect the school kids. Once the personal situation calms down (likely with the ex-husband being arrested), bring her back in. Doing something like that is what puts companies on the lists of places you want to work. Firing someone in a situation like this, hard though it may have been on everyone, makes it a place that stifles disclosure and forces people to continue living in desperate circumstances because they know no help will be forthcoming. In this case, there were better options (he says, not knowing the full extent of what was actually done).

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