Legal

What Does a Snowblower Have to do With Your Next Employee Termination?

By Jon Hyman

Feb. 9, 2015

We’ve had a robust February of snow in Northeast Ohio, which provided the first excuse of the season to pull my snowblower out of the garage. Since we moved into our house a decade ago, there was not a snow storm that it couldn’t handle. The Sunday newspaper, however, is another story.

Two years ago, we canceled our Plain Dealer subscription. As working parents of two young kids, reading the paper took a back seat to, well, life in general. The fine folks at the Plain Dealer, however, do not appear to believe us. Each Sunday morning, we awaken to find a four-page “promotional” edition of the paper in the driveway. No amount of phone calls have stopped the annoyance of this weekly driveway spam.

Last Sunday, I awoke to six inches of snow. Perhaps it was because the paper was buried under the blanket of white, or because it didn’t register as a fact important enough to recall, but I did not give the four pages of promo-news a second thought as I pushed the snowblower down my drive. More accurately, I didn’t give it a second thought until I saw a few scraps of paper fly from the shoot, followed quickly by the smell of smoke and the abrupt sound of the blades seizing.

“F***ing newspaper,” I yelled!

My wife and I tried, without avail, to dislodge the wet mess of newspaper that had quickly hardened to concrete around and behind the impeller. Knowing that disassembling a piece of heavy machinery is well beyond my pay grade, my wife Googled how to unblock a jammed snowblower. What she read stopped us in our tracks. Apparently, even though the engine is off, and blades blocked, there is a fair amount of tension left in the belt, which would cause the blades to spin when the jam is freed. Since we like having all 10 of our fingers pristinely attached to their respective hands, I pushed the lifeless snowblower back into the garage, and we grabbed our shovels for a long week of pushing and lifting snow.

“What,” you are saying to yourselves, “does this story have to do with employee terminations?”

When you terminate an employee, you cannot act on impulse. When the snowblower jammed, my first impulse  was to do everything possible to unjam it. The joy of my success, however, would have been severely tempered by a hospital trip to reattach my finger(s). The same holds true when you terminate an employee. Without exception, you cannot act out of anger or impulse. Your decisions must be well researched and deliberate. Review the personnel file. Talk to managers and supervisors. Read relevant policies. Research how similar employees have been treated in similar situations. And, if you have any doubt, call your employment lawyer. More often than not, impulse leads to lawsuits.

I’ll leave it to you to decide — between a lawsuit or lost finger — which is the more painful.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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