3/11/12

Is It Hard to Get Fired?

Sometimes, the worse you are at your job the harder it is to let you go.

Having recently provided a probing analysis of why people get fired, I was haunted by another burning question. Each day, as I diluted my morning coffee with a dash of organic goat milk, I wondered: is it hard to get fired?

The short answer is, it can be. The long answer? Well, that's why you're here, isn't it? Gather round and get ready for some serious answering.



The History

Back in the good ol' days, when capitalism was just emerging, you could get fired at the flick of a wrist, a whip, or a gun. There were no laws protecting laborers, no unions, and no HR department. Mistreatment at work was part of the job description, and if you were mistreated you took it like the slave laborer you were. You complained to god and then died of one awful disease or another due to the unsanitary work conditions, the harsh treatment or simply from exhaustion. And if you were fired you died of starvation, surrounded by the corpses of your wife and your twelve malnourished children.

But even the uneducated working class had its limits, and soon it reached them. I won't bore you with the history of labor unions, but needless to say, they were formed. Soon came laws protecting workers from the whims of their overlords, and then other laws were piled on top of those laws. Those laws, of course, were tested, resulting in lawsuits and yet even more laws. What happened then, you ask? Well, it became harder for employers to exploit their employees and to fire them.

How Firing Works

Because there are labor, termination and discrimination laws in place, getting rid of an employee is a multi-step process. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen. It just takes more time and effort, and for a generation of people who are raised on text messages, tweets and instant internet search results, the term "multi-step" can be pretty intimidating.

Nevertheless, a certain procedure must be followed in order to fire someone to prevent a lawsuit and, worse, a bad reputation for the company. First, you have to identify the bad behavior. Now, unless the bad behavior warrants an immediate discharge, i.e. involves wholesale theft, beating the crap out of someone, attacking a customer, or deflowering the intern (and even then), you must take steps to try and correct it, documenting the attempts thoroughly.

This doesn't mean sitting down and telling Julie she shouldn't be late to work. It means establishing a consistent, ongoing pattern of offenses despite all attempts to correct the behavior over some time. It could take months. And then, if Julie suddenly starts showing up to work on time, but doesn't do much of it, then you have to shift your investigation to the new series of offenses. And so on.

Anyway, once you have documented beyond doubt that you have grounds for terminating an employee, and that the termination has absolutely nothing to do with racial, sexual, ethnic, religious or any other kind of bias, then you work with HR to take the steps to fire the individual. This painstakingly outlined process can be found explained in more detail here.

Other Complications

As you can see, dear reader, getting rid of an employee can be a real pain in the ass. And if this weren't enough, other complications come into play. For example, when a manager hires an employee who has a poor performance record ultimately it reflects badly on the manager. Just like when your kid does drugs in school, it's easy to feel like it's your fault. It can be hard to reprimand someone you trained. And the worse your behavior, the harder it is for the person who hired you to believe it, because it would mean admitting his or her own bad judgment.

Not to mention, once you make it past the initial probation period, during which a company tests whether it wants to invest thousands of dollars in you, it is hard to say goodbye to all those thousands of dollars spent on training you to do the job. I mean, if it took you six months to master the job and you get fired for taking extra long lunches then another six months is going to be lost training your replacement. That's why the dubious expression "Time is money" is used so frequently in the corporate world.

Getting rid of you also has an impact on those around you. What if you're the Marquis de La Fayette of the department? A charismatic, principled and noble figure who does none of his work, but manages to rally everyone behind your brilliant opposition to your boss's reign of terror through procrastination? Firing you could make your boss the enemy of his or her entire department. While this is already most likely the case, it is something the manager will nonetheless fret over.

Finally, let's not forget that the higher up you are in an organization, the harder it is to fire you. More money has been invested in you and, legally, it's more complicated than firing a mail clerk or a secretary because you've probably signed 100+ page contracts with various legal nuances. Most importantly, though, people in higher positions have more independence in their job functions and therefore less oversight. This is why politicians hold on to their jobs much longer than American auto workers.

Is It Hard To Get Fired?

In other words, more often than not, it is hard to get fired. Don't believe me? Check out this rather thin, though relatively persuasive article on punkrockhr.com about getting fired. For those who don't like punk rock, here's a more muted summary of the points raised above.

The crucial question is whether the legal evolution of the termination process is too extreme. Granted, a bad employee can seriously mess shit up, but ultimately it should be hard to fire someone. Managers, don't be upset. If you have a bad apple and you can't get rid of it, you can always plant a crack pipe in his desk drawer.

And employees, take advantage of the system and take the time to evaluate whether or not you want to keep up your bad performance. Getting fired is rarely a surprise, so if you think it's going to happen, weigh the pros and cons of keeping your job against the effort it will take to improve your performance.

Also, don't forget: sometimes, it's easy to think you screwed up and you deserve to get fired when you really fell victim to bad management or discrimination. The aforementioned laws exist for a reason. Become familiar with them and fight against wrongful termination. Here's an excellent resource to wrongful termination, and here is a breakdown of termination laws by state.

Not an American? The Jackal loves his international audience and just for them he's including the worldwide guide to termination laws. You live in Brazil and you're worried that staring at bikini-clad models on the internet may get you fired? Don't worry, I've got your back. And if you feel like you've been wrongfully terminated, here is a fantastic legal resource, regardless of your home state or country.

People will continue to get fired, like they will continue to get dumped, rejected, marginalized and alienated. It is a natural part of the eternal human social organization process and no laws will change that. Doors open and doors close mercilessly in the corporate world. Sometimes, rejection is justified. You learn and move on. And sometimes, you have to muster up the courage and fight.


Sometimes getting fired is too easy.

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