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Broadcast Personnel Management

Doing the Firing (Continued)

The Dismissal Hearing

As covered previously, most broadcasting companies follow a warning-probation-dismissal progression before an employee is terminated. The practice is followed typically to give each employee in violation of company policy or demonstrating below par job performance an adequate opportunity to improve such performance.

Most dismissals today have to be carried out with specifics as to reason for termination and recourses for termination pay settlements. Without such, employees are often left with the option of carrying a protest to a state or federal wage and hour board, or governing employment agencies. Television and radio stations are particularly vulnerable because of each being licensed by the government.

The following covers key steps in carrying out a dismissal hearing. While companies may vary as to their requirements (some have human resources managers and some do not), the blueprint is relatively the same throughout the nation.


Reviewing the Investigation

If a decision is made to terminate an employee, the steps covered in the previous section in Personnel III should be carefully reviewed with either the human resources manager, or the department head's immediate superior. Both managers should be in agreement prior to the termination notice of proper reasoning for dismissal and adequate warnings for the employee. The managers should be in concert as to how the dismissal hearing will be conducted.


Secure a Witness

The manager conducting the firing should be certain to have a witness present during a dismissal hearing. Such witness should be careful to make any necessary written notes of any comments made by the employee and/or supervisor during such hearing. In the case of a company with a human resources manager, the human resources supervisor will carry out such notations and will report any necessary information to the general manager and to any responsible governing agencies (such as an employment board, etc.). The witness should always be from the management level of the company and never from the employee's peer level. Preferably, the witness will come from outside the department in question to provide objectivity.


Confidentiality

None of the employee's peers should be notified of the hearing in advance. Simultaneously, only the most essential management personnel should be notified. This is as much as a protection for the employee's dignity and rights as for the corporation's legal standing. Stations, in the past, have been forced to pay larger termination pay settlements if fired employees can prove the manager told station personnel, other than essential managers, in advance of the action.


Keep Calm, In Control, and Brief

Termination hearings can be emotional, particularly with an emotional employee. What is essential is for the manager administering the firing to remain calm and under control. Termination sessions potentially evaporate into shouting matches and arguments which explode the situation into a volatile exchange. In worst-case scenarios, the manager could be portrayed as emotionally unfit to retain objectivity in the case---which could be damaging in a future legal case.

A termination session should be kept to a ten-minute time frame, unless the employee persists in asking questions. Ultimately, the longer a termination session extends, the greater the opportunity for emotional reactions. Fifteen minutes into the hearing, at most, the employee should be told all further communication will be conducted via mail.

The employee should be presented with the facts and be offered an opportunity to resign. In many instances, the resignation is less flagrant on an employee's work record when seeking future employment, rather than a termination. From the management standpoint, a resignation frees the company from the responsibility of paying unemployment benefits---though an employee still may try to seek such as part of a forced resignation.


Timing of the Dismissal Hearing

Different management experts recommend varying approaches as to when a dismissal should be administered. Some violations, to be certain, are so flagrant dismissals must be carried out immediately. However, a consensus of experts suggest conducting the dismissal at the end of a standard work day. The reasons: 1) to prevent the employee from having extensive telephone contact with other personnel in the workplace during the course of a business day; and 2) to reduce the potential embarrassment to the employee in the midst of a business day.

One other area of division is whether a dismissal should be handled on a Friday, at the end of a work week----or conducted as necessary. Those who disfavor a Friday suggest a disgruntled employee could use the weekend to stir tensions within his or her department via telephone, or in-person contact. Any manager must know most employees, unless they have alienated a majority of their peers, will have their supporters. Those who favor Friday believe fewer employees will be in the station on a weekend, or in town, thereby reducing potential chaos. George Diab, retired president of Clay Broadcasting Corp., has said: "When you have to conduct a dismissal, as difficult as it may be, the best choice is to get it over with as quickly as possible. The day of the week is not going to have any bearing on whether an angry employee chooses to vent his frustrations at the station. Waiting rarely solves anything."




Collecting Personal Items

A final, and significant, matter is the collection of all station and personal items in the hands of the dismissed employee. The employee should, on the spot, be required to turn in all keys to any doors at the station. Quality stations will know what keys have been issued to which employees and such items should be required to be turned in immediately. If question marks exist as to which keys an employee possesses and an uncertainty prevails as to whether the employee may attempt a retaliatory action, the station should take steps to change any necessary locks in the building.

As for the employee's personal items, depending on the situation, the employee should be given a half-hour window at a time agreed to between the supervisor and the employee, preferably outside of standard business hours, to collect any and all personal items remaining on station property. Any remaining items which would be later discovered could be returned by mail. A station supervisor should be present at the time of the collection to ensure the security of the building and to prevent unnecessary and unhealthy exchanges between the employee and any other present station personnel.


Conduct All Further Business By Mail

The remainder of any exchanges between the dismissed employee and the station should be conducted via mail. E-mails and faxes are not considered professional or acceptable exchanges at this point in time, where a personnel matter is concerned. Should any type of legal challenge be filed by the dismissed employee, the matter should be turned over to both the station's human resources manager, if one exists, and the corporate attorney---who should supervise any remaining followup business.


Statements to Staff and/or Public

Particularly if the employee dismissed is an on-air personality or one well-known in management circles, questions will arise--- both from within staff and from the general public. Some members of the news media may call the station to ask for confirmation and reasons for a dismissal.

Most corporations have specific policies not to address personnel matters in public. Full station staff meetings should never be called to announce or discuss a dismissal. However, as a security measure (primarily to protect a station against any potential legal reprisal), information of dismissals of on-air or prominent station personnel should be transmitted to the station's department heads with instructions to refer all calls in the matter to the general manager, who will carry out corporate policy in addressing or not addressing the matter.

"No comment" policies, at least in the early days after a dismissal, potentially can create negative feedback from the public if a popular personality is fired. However, an employee's privacy and a company's responsibility to protect such is necessary from both a legal and ethical standpoint. Station rank-and-file employees should be instructed carefully, at the time they are hired, that should another station employee be dismissed during the time of one's employment, that dismissal should not be discussed publicly with the news media, or any other public agency.


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