Discharging an associate, particularly one who has been with you for some time, will always be stressful for both you and her. Be certain to go about it methodically and with forethought.
From time to time it’s necessary for all nail salon owners to discharge someone. This is irrespective of whether this person is a salaried employee, a commissioned employee, or a booth renter. “Most poor performers phase themselves out,” says Kin Carey, owner of Pegasus Nail Designz in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada. “I’m grateful that firing someone does not happen too often.” When this person accepted a position within your salon both parties were optimistic. Still, you must always ask yourself the question, “Should this person have been hired in the first place? Does she have the qualifications and attitude to be a successful nail tech? Were the salon’s policies clearly laid out?” Melanie Martin of Nails by Mel, also in Lloydminster, says, “Some of the problems might be the salon’s fault, not the employee’s. Some could be quite correctable.”
Sometimes though, things just don’t work out as intended and there must be a parting of the ways. Some may go amicably, some will be fuming, while others threaten legal action for wrongful dismissal. No matter which, it always engenders intense emotions for all parties — the salon owner, the departing tech, and those who remain.
It’s easy to think that if ignored long enough, the problem will just disappear. This is wishful thinking. Usually it doesn’t and if anything, in most cases, it becomes exacerbated with time.
Because of the potential for litigation this situation can be more difficult. If not handled with discretion it could generate a costly-to-defend lawsuit. This could also apply to “constructive dismissal,” which is where by tolerating, what is for her, an oppressive working environment the associate was forced to leave. All the tech needs to do is to claim that she was willfully, maliciously, and unlawfully terminated and you are in court. Although innocent of any wrongful action the cost to defend yourself could be horrendous. And you will be bad-mouthed by the discharged person who will gain much sympathy from her friends and contacts. Steps taken before and during the exit procedure could significantly affect both salon owner and departing worker.
Terminating for Just Cause
“For just cause” means the employer has a valid reason to fire this person. The reasons are numerous. They include such infractions as incompetency, theft, stealing, using drugs, drinking on the job, being belligerent to clients, being disruptive, bad-mouthing the salon owner, personality problems, ethical concerns, and otherwise breaking the terms of employment. Termination justifications can usually be subdivided into two groups: Group one includes actions that should result in immediate discharge and group two includes actions that may result in a warning, yet if uncorrected are followed by termination.
Today’s labor laws appear to be structured in favor of the employee. You only have to read the multitude of advertisements by law firms to see that none are for the benefit of the employers. However, this does not limit your right to discharge an employee or associate for a good reason, or for no specific reason at all, such as dissatisfaction or incompatibility. Just ensure that the discharge is not prejudicial or could not be classified as “wrongful dismissal.” This would include discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, nationality, or sexual orientation. You cannot fire someone who filed a discrimination claim, refused to commit an illegal act, or has a statutory right.
However, the law is not unfair. It provides the employer the opportunity to prove that the dismissal was not wrongful or prejudicial. It is imperative to methodically document the reasons and the steps you have taken in bringing about this action (see "Don’t Skip These Steps" below).
Doing the Deed
Termination should never be a “shoot from the hip” reaction to a specific situation, rather it’s a well-thought-out yet timely process. Still, don’t delay it unnecessarily. Having concluded there is no alternative, plan the exit so it creates the minimum anguish for both you and the nail tech. Clarify why you are taking this action. Be clear about the reasons. Document those reasons. Avoid personal, degrading, or vague statements and don’t say anything that might suggest that the situation is reversible. Consider the possibility of an irrational, negative, or combative reaction and perhaps an appeal. Having reached this point, do it now, not tomorrow or next week. Never allow a tech or other employee a few days or weeks to get her things in order. This only permits this person to do nothing to further your salon but perhaps be more disruptive and bad-mouth you to others. Resolve the issues about confidentiality, ownership of clients, ongoing client retention, and her becoming a competitor. [Editor’s note: Read “When a Tech Leaves Your Team” in next month’s issue for more on this.]
If the problem is with a booth renter and you are little more than a supervising lessor, there is very little change in the procedures to be followed. In some cases, such with the Nails by Mel salon, where all techs are on month-to-month leases, the last month’s booth rent is prepaid. Martin suggests that if firing in mid-month you make a full refund of the unearned portion of the current month’s rent and the prepaid last month’s held on deposit. This way, you are rid of the problem — today.
After the Termination
Some remaining associates may think you have acted too harshly and prematurely. Others will wonder what took you so long. Saying, “It’s not your concern” or something of this sort, may not cut it. You must gauge yourself as to how much explanation is required and what you are prepared to share. There is no definite rule as to how to deal with these situations. Make a judgment based on your personal salon situation.
If the fired employee asks for a reference, because of concern about being liable for defamation of character it is usually best to provide only the date of the termination and say nothing else.
Don’t Skip These Steps
> Begin with a detailed investigation into the cause and probable action.
> Ensure that the problem or allegations are real and have been or can be substantiated.
> Have a sit-down with the associate and in an open, non-prejudicial manner discuss the problem or allegations.
> Give the associate every opportunity to respond.
> Seek an alternative solution to dismissal.
> Most importantly, when you are certain that the problem cannot be resolved do not sweep it under the rug. Act with discretion and candor.
> Where possible, convince the associate to quit. Get a signed resignation letter. This makes it better for both parties who can then avoid the potential pitfalls associated with termination.
Lloyd Manning is a semi-retired commercial real estate and business appraiser. He has had four business books and over 100 articles published in trade and consumer magazines and professional journals. His most recent book, “Winning With Commercial Real Estate,” is available from Booklocker Inc, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.