Professional Jeweler Archive: Cover Your Assets

May 2005

The Store | Managing: Your Staff


Cover Your Assets

Keep good employee records

By Suzanne DeVries


In our litigation-happy world, it’s often easier to hire than to fire. This may be hard for you to swallow, considering all the effort and preparation you put into the hiring process, including job advertising, interviews, background and credit checks. Nonetheless, it’s true.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard jewelers take the hard-line stance that “I make the decisions about hiring and firing and that’s that.” But the reality is, unless you keep detailed files on a problem employee, cutting them loose can land you in court facing a wrongful termination lawsuit.

The instances of an employer terminating an employee and then being sued – and subsequently losing a costly judgment due to a lack of proper documentation of the employee’s poor performance – are all too frequent. It becomes a “he said, she said” situation, and you can be sure the employee has been well-coached by an attorney to document your shortcomings as an owner or manager to create a damaging case against you. That is why you should protect yourself by keeping a detailed file on every employee from Day 1.

This means keeping everything on file – from the hiring stage on – including résumés, job applications and background and credit-check results. It’s also a good idea to take notes when speaking with references and keep these on file as well. Document and save all job-performance reviews. Also any conversation related to job performance should be documented. Of course, any warnings issued for sub-par performance or “fireable” offenses, such as leaving a show case open, should be put in writing and included in the file. Have the employee sign and date these documents as they are recorded to further protect yourself.

Employment laws are different in every state. It’s critical to have an experienced labor attorney guide you through “the right way” to terminate an employee in your state.

Have a clear, specific policy in your employee handbook about what type of behavior/performance is expected and what will not be tolerated – along with the consequences of violating the policy. This includes listing all actions you consider “fireable” offenses, so there are no misunderstandings if they do occur.

If you have documented everything, you have done due diligence in learning your state’s labor laws and your policy is clearly spelled out in the employee handbook, don’t hesitate to fire a bad employee.

A problem employee can cost you in terms of lost sales and customers; poor customer service; poisoning other staff members with his/her attitude; bad-mouthing you and your store to coworkers, customers and suppliers; undermining your authority; and hurting your good name and reputation. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can rehabilitate him or her. Just cut your losses and move on.

The longer you wait to terminate a bad employee, the harder it will be in the end. You’ll end up spending more time dealing with the employee and trying to undo any damage caused than tending to your business. Even worse, you will give that employee time to spread a cancerous attitude throughout your organization, turn other workers against you and destroy company morale and productivity. Keep in mind your delay in firing a bad employee gives that person time to build a legal case against you for wrongful termination.

When it comes to protecting yourself and your jewelry business from vengeful employees in the courtroom, the bottom line is document, document, document.

Suzanne DeVries is president and founder of Diamond Staffing Solutions Inc., a national placement service exclusively for the jewelry industry. Contact her at (877) 396-6377, Suzanne@diamondstaffing.com.

Copyright © 2005 by Bond Communications