During my career in local government, there were numerous times individuals running for public office would boast that when they get into office they were going to clean house, get rid of waste, and fire unnecessary public employees to reduce the payroll. Man, that rhetoric sure sounded good during the campaign; however from what I have observed, 99% of locally elected government officials found terminating a public employee very unpleasant. Most agonized during the termination hearing. Many wanted to give the employee a second chance.
Some were concerned what the impact of the job loss would have on the person’s family. Some dreaded the thought of confronting them in the local community. Worst yet, some knew the employees either as a friend of the family or as a member of a local organization. Consequently, terminating local government employees took a toll on most local public officials.
As a County Administrator I had to wear the black hat many times and I came to believe there were only seven valid reasons to terminate a public employee. Whenever I based my decision to recommend terminating an employee on one of these seven reasons, I never missed a night’s sleep or had regrets. I share these reasons with you in the hopes that you can benefit from them. I know from personal experience, these seven reasons will pass any court or union test and I vehemently believe if public officials don’t enforce these reasons, they abdicate their responsibility to the public they serve.
1) Theft. Anytime a local government employee is caught stealing or misappropriating government resources, terminate immediately. Employees who steal from government are not taking from the corporate coffers; they are stealing from every taxpayer and resident in the community and therefore have no place whatsoever in local government.
2) Falsification of government records. Government records are public documents; they are part of a community’s official history and need to be accurate. If an employee falsifies public records, terminate immediately. Examples would be: filing false expense vouchers, exaggerating hours worked on a time sheet, and backdating or postdating government/department transactions.
3) Loss of license or certification. Many government employees, by virtue of their positions, are required to possess a state license or academic certification. Job announcements always state: must possess a valid XXX or YYY at the time of application (i.e. valid state driver’s license, CDL commercial driver’s license, a social worker license, appraiser certification, etc.). Should an employee lose his or her ability to maintain required licensing or certification, terminate immediately.
4) Inability to meet physical requirements of the job. This one gets a little tricky because of workers comp and ADA requirements. However if an employee is no longer able to physically perform their duties “with reasonable accommodations”, terminate immediately. Clear examples would be: a law enforcement officer who loses both legs in a car crash while in a pursuit or a clerical person who loses eyesight during a home accident. (Both, by the way, were real world issues I experienced.) A law enforcement officer without legs cannot chase a suspect nor can a sight-impaired clerical person file or type as required.
5) Incompetence. Some employees, public as well as private, find themselves in positions where they are academically qualified for, but ill-suited for, a particular job. Though they have the knowledge, they may not possess the personality or the temperament for a position. If training, mentoring or coaching cannot help an individual achieve minimum standards or performance expectations, terminate immediately. Working with irate members of the public or consistently being able to remember all required tasks are traits not every individual possesses.
6) Under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Units of local government have drug and alcohol policies. Should an employee return from lunch under the influence or engage in alcohol or drug consumption while on duty, terminate immediately. Never condone such incidents or let the person go home and sleep it off; I guarantee it will come back to haunt you.
7) Excessive tardiness or absenteeism. Every municipal government I know operates on a tight budget. When employees fail to arrive on time or show up when required, they put their government function in jeopardy. Oversleeping, car problems, unique home situations, etc. cannot take precedence over the stated job requirements. If excessive tardiness or absenteeism continues after an employee has been given two written warnings, terminate immediately.
I sincerely hope these seven reasons make sense and allow you to make good termination decisions.