“A discharge is the act or instrument by which a contract or agreement is ended”. Or “To end the service of (someone) in a formal or official way; to release (someone) from duty”.

Sometimes, management takes initiative in separating the employee from the organization. Discharge is one of the ways of the permanent separation of an employee. The employee who is discharged gets separated from the pay-roll for violation of the organization rules or for unsatisfactory performance.

Involuntary termination is an employee’s departure from a job at the hands of the employer. It’s colloquially called “being fired”; ie terminated, discharged, and fired– all terms mean the same thing. At its most basic discharge means, “you no longer hold a job within the company”.

Companies fire employees for a wide range of reasons.

Anti-discrimination – Various anti discrimination acts make it illegal to fire someone on the basis of race, sex, age, religion or disability etc. in case of discharge on the basis of discrimination, the employee can sue the company for violating the anti discrimination laws

Causes of Discharge

There are various reasons or causes for giving discharge to employees.

Frequent causes include inefficiency of employees, dishonesty, carelessness on the part of the employees, drunkenness, indifferent attitude, violation of rules Violation of a signed contract etc.

While infrequent causes of giving discharge to employees include causes such as insubordination, destructiveness negligence, incompetency, ill health etc.

Employers may fire specific employees due to a lack of performance after numerous attempts to help the employee improve his productivity.

Employees can be fired after continual confrontations with management or co-workers, as a way to prevent subversive influences from creating a hostile work environment.

In extreme cases, companies may fire employees on the spot for exhibiting violent or threatening behavior, or for committing a criminal act such as fraud or theft on the job.

Employers are also forced to discharge an employee who resigns

Effects of Discharge

Loss of job therefore loss of wages and benefits.

May hinder the jobseekers chances of finding new employment, [if employee sacked from previous job].

Unemployment benefits from the state may not be available if employee quits voluntarily or is fired for misconduct

Steps to Discharge an Employee

Discharging an employee is one of the least pleasant tasks of running a business. No business owner wants to take away an employee’s ability to earn a living. However, certain circumstances may make discharging an employee the appropriate choice for maintaining the efficiency and profitability of the business. Before discharging an employee the following steps are taken to minimise the chance of confrontation and legal complications.

1] Preliminary disciplinary action

In most cases the decision to terminate an employee is based on aspects of the persons work performance, such as excessive absenteeism, failure to complete projects on time, misuse of company property.

In such cases preliminary disciplinary action would be verbal warnings, written warning for infraction [a violation or infringement of law, agreement, or a set of rules] before opting for discharge

This gives the employee an opportunity to make adjustments to avoid termination.

All the disciplinary actions and the actions taken in response to infraction should be documented. The employee should be asked to sign all disciplinary documentation. If he/she refuses to sign the documentation, this refusal should be noted and a witness should be asked to sign

This will prevent the employee from claiming that he/she was terminated without warning.

2] Final Written Warning

If an employee commits repeated infractions and does not respond to preliminary disciplinary action, then a final written warning is issued. The written warning may contain an expiry time period. This gives the employee one last chance before discharge.

The employee should be asked to sign all disciplinary documentation. If he/she refuses to sign the documentation, this refusal should be noted and a witness should be asked to sign

3] Notice of Discharge

After the final warning if the employee’s poor performance continues, conduct a termination meeting/exit interview in a private area in the presence of a witness. Present the employee with a notice of discharge which mentions that the employee has been terminated, date and exact reason for discharge, list and details of infractions and list of all previous disciplinary actions.

The employee should be asked to sign the notice of discharge and be given a copy of it. The witness should sign if employee refuses; however the employee’s; to sign does not invalidate the termination.

4] Post-discharge

After the termination meeting company owned property should be collected from the employee [access badges, laptops,cell phones, keys etc].

Discharged employee should be escorted from the building to avoid contact with other employee’s.

All this should be done in police presence if you feel that the employee poses a physical threat.

All documentation should be properly filed so that it can be accessed easily in case of claims made by the employee or a law suit filed by him/her.

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