This can seem difficult to get right – exactly how much evidence do you need before you can legally fire someone? Obviously, you can not fire someone just because you don’t like them. Nor can you fire someone because the organisation needs to save money (that is redundancy) but you can fire someone if they are not completing their job to the standard the organisation requires or if they consistently display a poor, disrespectful or negative attitude.
The legal bods will want to be sure you ‘act reasonably at all times’ – this means keeping an open mind, conducting objective and, if possible, impartial investigations before taking formal action. Never be tempted to fire someone in the heat of the moment, even under the most severe provocation. If you think that it would be safer, or it would aid the investigation, if the individual is not in the workplace then suspended them on full pay whilst the investigation is carried out. However, be sure this is for as short a period of time as possible and that you keep in regular communication with them. Remember, you may be required to demonstrate that you have been ‘acting reasonably at all times’ before an Industrial Tribunal and this is easy to do so when you take a breath, pause, and think things through before taking any action.
However, what I am currently witnessing, particularly in the public sector, is an imbalance towards looking after the rights of the individual BEFORE looking after the rights of the manager and/or organisation. So I think it is very important to stress one key point about the level of evidence that is legally required in order to fire someone. In a court of law, when an individual’s liberty is at stake, the prosecution is required to provide ‘evidence beyond reasonable doubt’. But, fortunately, this degree of proof is NOT required for a company to dismiss an individual. All the organisation is required to provide is evidence that ‘on the balance of probability’ they are a poor performing individual. Provided the organisation, and the managers within it, conduct thoughtful and truthful appraisals with accurate records and gain evidence from a number of different sources this is simple and easy to provide.
So you do not need to provide absolute proof of an individual’s poor performance before dismissing them. You only need to provide evidence that ‘on the balance of probability’ they have shown themselves to be a poor employee. Whew!! Now, be sure that all your managers AND staff know of this important distinction. It could make life easier for everyone and may bring some important reality into the thinking and actions of some individuals!