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A closer look at hiring and firing.

A Closer Look at Hiring and Firing

The high cost of hiring makes it crucial to select the right worker the first time. Here's how.

WHEN IT comes to hiring, no single method works best for everyone. Hiring requirements for different positions vary according to the job level, the employer's exposure to loss and liability, and concerns over public safety. Standards have been slow to materialize, but lately the courts have been forced to determine a standard because of pending litigation, criminal negligence cases, and civil suits.

A company hires to meet the basic need of acquiring help in conducting the company's business. Because of extensive litigation and regulation, a company now needs to consider many other factors than the worker's ability to perform certain job skills. Will the employee get along with other employees or be disruptive? Will the employee be reliable, show up on time, and not call in sick or leave work early? Is the person prone to violence or arguing with supervisors? Will he or she use drugs or alcohol on the job or influence others to do so? Will he or she steal from the company or look the other way when others steal?

What is the best approach to determine whom to hire? Each company not only has different requirements and exposures but also differs in the ability to perform the administrative functions necessary to find the right employee for the right job. Each employer needs to establish a basic hiring policy that applies to all applicants. The policy should include considerations for the job level and the amount of responsibility the applicant might have if hired. Such a policy provides the employer with a nondiscriminatory method of dealing with applicants. How far the employer goes in the hiring process--that is, how much time and money are spent to screen applicants--depends on the following factors:

] budget--the amount of turnover and the actual funds allocated to screening each employee

] need--the immediate demands of the company to place a worker on the job

] ability--the company's in-house expertise in interviewing, processing, investigating, and verifying.

The bottom line is the cost of placing someone on the job. Companies reviewing their expenditures are often surprised to learn how much is spent on hiring. Considering advertising, processing applications, interviewing, orientation, preparing administrative files, and conducting initial training, the cost of putting someone to work is substantial. That makes it all the more important to hire someone who will not only perform but also be a long-term, trouble-free employee.

Do hiring standards exist? The courts say that in many situations they do. When employees have caused harm or loss and were known to have had previous problems, courts have called the harm or loss foreseeable and have held employers negligent for failing to screen properly. Numerous awards have been made to plaintiffs who were assaulted or injured by employees who had a violent past. The courts have stated that the employer failed to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the background of the applicant and because of that neglect the plaintiff sustained loss or injury.

What is a reasonable inquiry? In some states, criminal histories are available only through county court records. Drug testing and other tests may also be restricted. What then can an employer do to determine a potential employee's suitability? Fortunately, employers' hands are not completely tied. Many employers are simply too lazy, too rushed, or too cheap to exercise their basic rights.

Of course, applicants have rights too. Thus, an essential part of setting hiring policy must be a thorough examination of pertinent laws in each state where the company does business. Some hiring considerations apply to most types of employment in most jurisdictions, but these generalities are limited. It is safe to say that all employers should require a written application that asks questions pertinent to the type or level of employment. Without an application that establishes a detailed chronology of an applicant's education, work experience, and other pertinent information, an employer has no basis to verify statements made by the applicant.

An interview should also be included in general requirements. Interviewing enables the employer to observe the applicant and determine the applicant's ability to present himself or herself favorably. The interview also allows the employer to ask questions that do not appear on the application.

If the applicant is still in the running after the application and interviews, the employer needs to follow through with verification. This is where many companies drop the ball, hiring without further investigation. It is also the point where "seat of the pants" employers say they have enough information to make a decision. Employment decisions have often been made on no other basis than personality and appearance, and employers have suffered from those decisions.

REASONABLE DILIGENCE IS DEFINED by Barron's Law Dictionary as "that diligence which is required by the circumstances, the rendering of which prevents liability for negligence." It makes good sense to apply that definition in establishing a hiring policy.

Many employers feel, with some justification, that business is burdened with too much regulation and an unreasonable fear of litigation. These regulations were enacted to protect employees from unfair or unscrupulous employers, but what about employers' rights? One never hears of cases where an employer has sued to regain losses from poor production efforts or ineffective supervision. However, employers do have rights, are protected by law, and have many advantages they seldom exercise. Employers who have suffered losses because they did not use more care in selecting or monitoring the labor force often give surprising justifications. Among the more prevalent reasons are "If I screen too carefully, I won't have anyone to do the job" and "The law doesn't allow you to check too carefully." Both of these excuses are just that--excuses.

What exactly can an employer do? Before handing over the keys to the business, an employer has the right to determine what type of individual he or she is dealing with. Based on the circumstances (remember the definition of reasonable diligence), an employer needs to identify the applicant properly, verify any information provided, and learn how the applicant has performed elsewhere. It is advisable, say many courts, to tell the applicant what checks will be made, what tests will be given, and how applicants will be chosen.

The application itself is the key. Its questions must elicit information that provides a basic look at the applicant's qualifications. More importantly, it must contain questions that request information the applicant will not volunteer.

People naturally tend to exaggerate their skills, education, and experience when given the opportunity. One company recently provided applicants a list of equipment and asked them to identify the items they were trained to operate. A high percentage checked off equipment that did not exist.

Resumes may provide some useful insight into an applicant's organizational ability, professional qualifications, and writing ability. But what resume ever said, "I'm hard to get along with, seldom do my job, have poor personal habits, and lack a formal education?" Applicants do not volunteer that kind of information. They provide word sketches that enhance their accomplishments; they may even lie extensively.

The application asks for direct answers and should require names, addresses, dates, and certifications. The application should also contain a direct statement that informs the applicant about disqualification or termination of employment should any of the information provided be false. In the initial meeting with the employer, the applicant needs to know that the employer is fair but ready to take the proper steps to verify information provided.

Many employers mistakenly believe the law restricts the release of information about employees' performance, status, or conditions of discharge. The Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1971 regulates the release of information by third-party reporting agencies. Employers may, in most circumstances, release information related to their direct experience with employees that is documented in their files. However, the key to releasing such information is documentation. If the former employer cannot prove a claim and was not directly involved in the situation, he or she should not tell anyone about it. Several states now require an employer to provide discharged employees with letters stating the reasons and terms of the separation of employment.

When the application is filled out, the applicant should be given a separate form that describes the scope of background investigations and releases record holders from liability for the release of information that is job related, documented, and necessary to determine suitability. At that time the employer should also inform the applicant about methods of testing that might be used to determine suitability--this notification too should be confirmed on a separate form on which the applicant verifies his or her understanding that the tests are necessary to determine suitability. The form that releases former employers from liability may be mailed directly with requests for information. When the only release is on the application, the employer must mail a copy of the application--a burdensome task. Even with the release, many former employers refuse to provide information. In those cases, the employer may still be able to verify employment dates, wage level, promotion dates, and eligibility for reemployment.

A common error is to accept the human resource department's statement that "we don't release information" or "there's nothing in the file." In checking with former employers, the prospective employer should make every attempt to contact the applicant's direct supervisor or even a coworker--someone who knew and had contact with the applicant. The purpose, in addition to gaining any information provided, is to verify information submitted by the applicant. When contacting sources on the application or resume, the employer is primarily looking for inconsistencies, false information, and outright lies. Incompleteness on an application indicates many possibilities. It may be an attempt to be deceitful by failing to provide exact facts, knowing they may or may not be verified. It may also indicate the applicant's inability to follow directions. Omitted information may be sought through the interview or by investigation.

THE INTERVIEW IS THE NEXT STEP in a reasonable approach to hiring. It provides many opportunities to evaluate the applicant. Not all employers are expert interviewers, nor do they all have similar styles in handling a one-on-one situation. Thus it is difficult to establish set standards for conducting interviews. However, in general, interviews should be conducted in a comfortable, sterile situation where there is little chance of interruption or distraction. A good interviewer poses questions that lead the applicant to discuss his or her qualifications, not to provide stock answers. Questions need to be suited to the background and situation of each interviewee, but in general they should be similar. Interviews also provide a time for the interviewer to fill in the blanks from the application and observe the applicant in a semistressful situation. Personal presentation, mannerisms, hygiene, and attitude are all important factors.

The average interviewer or person responsible for hiring does not have an extensive background in psychology, investigation, or other forms of analysis. He or she is merely trying to fill a position as quickly and efficiently as possible, given the budget and personnel available. So far, the expense has been minimal and the process fairly simple. Now comes the difficult part--choosing commercial methods of testing.

First is the determination of whether to test at all and, if so, for what purpose. Not long ago, employers hired friends, family members, or someone who came recommended by another friend. The labor force was fairly stable. Workers stayed in one area most of their lives, worked for one employer, and were usually known in the community. Now society is highly mobile, with workers changing jobs, homes, and environments on a regular basis. Someone hired and trusted today may be gone tomorrow, along with the employer's receipts, merchandise, or equipment.

Today's employers must have some assurance that their new employees will not place them on the rolls of closed businesses. Hiring practices must consider all available forms of honesty testing, substance testing, and background searches. However, while a form of testing may be perfectly acceptable in one jurisdiction, that same form may be strictly prohibited just across the state line. Employers must consider legal restrictions in each area of operation and should consult attorneys before adopting overall hiring policies.

How can an employer choose the right test? Everyone hails different methods of determining honesty. Unfortunately, no method is perfect. Since the goal is to find a reasonable means of examining applicants, employers should look at each method and compare validity studies, certifications, and results found by other employers. The best method is the one appropriate to the employer's budget, management style, and type of business. In fact, the best method may be to use more than one method. Above all, employers should tell applicants what tools they might be subjected to to qualify for employment. The advisement should be in writing, perhaps in the form of an employment policy. It should also outline specific policies of the company on substance abuse, theft, physical assault, and sexual harassment. When the employer lets the applicant know the company is serious about maintaining a safe, drug-free, productive workplace, potential troublemakers may be eliminated right then. The hiring decision can now be based on a complete analysis of the factual information available from an intelligently researched number of sources.

FIRING IS A CHORE MOST PEOPLE would prefer to pass to someone else. Unfortunately, many employers are so anxious to get the firing process over with that they overlook many elements that could potentially benefit both the employer and the employee. In recent years numerous incidents of violence and tragedy directly related to termination of employment have been documented. Psychologists rate the loss of employment toward the top of the stress chart, and feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and having nothing more to lose are common results. It is difficult, if not impossible, to terminate employment and leave the unfortunate person with feelings of goodwill toward the employer. It is possible, however, to approach the entire matter professionally and competently. Leaving the terminated employee with his or her self-respect and dignity, along with the feeling that he or she has been treated fairly, should be an important goal in the firing process.

The firing decision should not be taken lightly. All pertinent facts should be examined. Could the employee have misunderstood the rules? Is the supervisor's evaluation fair and objective? Are the required procedures clear and available in writing? Was the employee counseled about omissions, violations, or unacceptable behavior? Is other disciplinary action a viable alternative? Are employees made aware of disciplinary procedures, rights of appeal, and termination procedures? On the advice of attorneys who might not have considered all aspects of employment problems, many employers have no employee manual. Employees do have the right to know for what reasons they may be terminated, whether they have violated company rules, and what happens to their benefits if employment is terminated.

Some employers provide written explanations of disciplinary and termination procedures to employees as part of the hiring orientation. Certainly some employees use such guidelines to take an employer to task in a termination proceeding. However, if a company has not followed its own rules in making the firing decision, then it deserves the employee's disrespect and may suffer adverse decisions in employment litigation. The lessons learned here are simple:

] Establish a fair and comprehensive policy.

] Publish and communicate the policy.

] Follow the rules the company has established.

] Counsel problem employees, and document each counseling session.

] Base firing decisions on a fair analysis of documented facts.

Conducting the termination procedure in a professional and businesslike manner is important to both parties. In addition to maintaining the dignity of the employee, avoiding a violent confrontation is obviously desirable. In the September 1988 issue of Security Management, author Gavin de Becker summarized the factors contributing to violence. Managers involved in a termination must understand that, especially when they are faced with insults and threats, their demeanors may well determine the level of stress experienced by the person being fired. The stress level can directly affect the likelihood of future violent acts against the company. The employee may be extremely upset and barely capable of carrying out an intelligent conversation. The employer must let the employee know that the firing is not the end of the world and that the experience may have positive aspects.

To preserve the employee's pride, the notification and discussion of termination must be confidential and held in a location away from other employees. The only personnel present should be those directly involved with the procedure. Direct supervisors, especially if a confrontational atmosphere exists, should not be present. Two administrators should take part, both to provide protection in case of a confrontation and to add to the sense of professionalism. The employee will want to know why there cannot be just one more chance; what prospective employers may be told; and how pay, benefits, and equipment turn-ins will be handled. All these matters should be discussed unemotionally, fairly, and professionally. Management must be prepared to answer each of these questions without wavering or hedging. No false hopes, promises, or negotiations should be offered. The firing decision, once made, should be final.

Some employers, to reduce tensions, often end these meetings the way a fraternity turns down a potential pledge: "Hope we see you around the campus!" Inviting former employees back on company property is a mistake. Employers should consider a formal policy that forbids former employees from entering company property or vehicles or from visiting other employees on job sites. Employer should also consider advising fired employees that persons found in areas restricted to the public may be subject to removal and arrest. An employee who needs to return for administrative purposes should be instructed to make an appointment and follow set procedures for visitors. This treatment may seem harsh, but it reduces the likelihood of confrontations or other problem situations.

An employer may consider providing information about other employers who may have openings or about agencies that might help the fired employee find another job. Information about other types of assistance, such as job training, may also be made available. The terminated employee needs to know he or she still has a future.

An exit interview often leads to interesting information about situations in the workforce. Departing employees, relieved of the burden of protecting wrongdoers, often produce valuable information. The interviewer should present the attitude of an interested bystander and by no means attempt to refute statements made.

Ending employment is not a pleasant situation for anyone. A manager's best efforts may still end up in disaster. To maintain dignity--both the employer's and the employee's--managers must nevertheless attempt a reasonable conclusion to the proceedings.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:employees
Author:Layne, Stevan P.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jun 1, 1989
Previous Article:Courtroom security: the international scene.
Next Article:Shoring up eroding options.

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