Protect Your Shop from Vindictive Fired Employees
There’s a repair tech shortage out there, and the last thing your shop needs is a vacant slot. But you’ve already tried everything you can think of, and by now you have no choice: You’ve got to fire someone who just isn’t working out.
Maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe the person isn’t a hothead, and maybe they aren’t the vindictive type either.
Then again, maybe they are and you don’t even know it —maybe they’ve got one of those calm, seemingly respectful exteriors that hide a landmine of red rage and vengeance inside. Sadly, we work in that kind of a world.
How do you keep from being burned? More on the end game later because, according to business adviser and syndicated columnist Janet Attard, much of the action should start before the employee sets foot on your shop floor.
“This issue is important because employees will sometimes decide to get even after they’re fired, and there are all sorts of ways they can try to do that, ranging from acting out to looking for legal ways to get even,” says Attard, owner of BusinessKnowHow.com.
“So this should be a concern for any business these days, but particularly for the kind of business where you could have difficulty finding qualified people. You might just be so happy to get them that you kind of forget what can happen if things go wrong.”
Background checks, then, are step one, says Attard. They should be done routinely for all of your hires after getting the job candidate’s written permission, and you should check out everything possible under your state’s employment laws.
“Background checks need to be consistent within your company,” Attard notes. “You can either do them the same way for every employee throughout the company, or, if you want to do them differently for different types of positions, they have to be consistent within job descriptions.”
At minimum, most states allow you to check the candidate’s criminal and driving records (usually, you can refuse to hire for convictions, but not for arrests alone).
But the potential hire’s credit details are also valuable, if available, for positions where money or contract terms are involved, especially when the employee will have access to cash, computer records and/or credit-card information. Complete background checks can often be contracted for $100 or less.
If you haven’t already done so, Attard advises checking with your local branch of the U.S. Small Business Administration or the local Small Business Development Center for details on your state’s regulations on background checks and all other aspects of employment—including which laws must be posted for all employees to see in your shop.
Which brings us to step two: “One thing you need to do is be sure you’re running your business according to the law,” says Attard. “There are so many laws out there that employees can use if they’re looking for legal ways to hurt you. They can report anything they’ve seen the owner doing; they can report you to the IRS over your taxes; I’ve also heard of cases where employees have reported violations that haven’t occurred, just to keep the owner occupied defending him or herself.”
One special potential vengeance claim is workplace harassment, Attard notes, so be certain that your shop’s work environment is 100 percent harassment-free. “Make sure that you have none of what might sound like kidding around but might still be interpreted as harassment,” she says. “And this can be a situation where, at the time, everybody knows it’s just kidding. But then somebody gets fired down the line, and the person who gets fired suddenly decides it wasn’t just kidding after all.”
Step three? Documentation and recordkeeping—beyond routine paperwork like signed time sheets for all employees, especially as the possibility of termination begins to loom more clearly on your radar.
“If you decide to fire, you need to fully document why, along with any conversations you’ve had with the employee leading up to it,” Attard advises. “Keeping records of the hours they worked might be important, for example, and always have the employee sign them every week. Document everything that is relevant to your decision to fire—and be sure to keep that documentation. I know, you’re busy, and a lot of managers don’t like paperwork. Still, there are certain things you just have to do to protect yourself.”
When the firing zero hour arrives, Attard says, “Don’t make it confrontational, no matter how emotional you might feel about this person.”
“Keep it as straightforward as possible. Do not make it a personal issue. Depending on things like how big your shop is, you should already have done regular performance reviews with your employees, with clear feedback on how they’ve done. And, if you know you’re going to fire someone, you might even set up arrangements for them to get job counseling afterwards or at least recommend some job counseling resources for them.”
Formal exit interviews that subtly or not so subtly probe the departing employee’s attitude toward the company might also be a good thing to include in the firing process, Attard says.
Soon afterwards, or perhaps even a bit before, you might also want to change your shop’s locks, just to be sure. “You can always ask for their keys back, but, then again, you don’t really know whether they might have already made their own copies,” Attard says. You might even want to change the locks on your perimeter gates, she adds, in case “somebody might come back in a rage some night and damage your customers’ cars in the lot.”
Another precaution, especially for employees who had access to your or your customers’ credit card information, or important computer records: changing your system’s access passwords.
Sound extreme, especially for an employee who might not seem to be a vengeance risk on the surface?
“Well, in this day and age, you never really know what somebody’s likely to do—again, we just seem to live in that kind of world these days,” Attard says. “And it’s hard to say exactly how common the getting-even factor really is, but I’ll tell you one thing: It’s never common until it happens to you.”
“It’s probably even a very tiny percentage of people who get fired who want to get vindictive about it,” she adds. “Whatever that percentage is, though, you just don’t want it to happen to you.”