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When it comes to disciplining and terminating a self-storage employee, there are human resources and legal factors to consider. With proper documentation and preparation, you can get through the situation with professionalism and protect your business from potential litigation.

August 9, 2016

7 Min Read
Advice for Disciplining and Terminating a Self-Storage Employee

By Pamela Alton

When it comes to disciplining and terminating a self-storage employee, there are human resources and legal factors to consider. It’s a difficult situation most owners want to avoid; however, it’s sometimes a necessary part of operating a business. With proper documentation and preparation, you can get through the situation with professionalism and protect your operation from potential litigation.

Discipline

If you’ve trained your manager in the company policies and procedures and noticed he’s violating them, or he displays a poor attitude toward customers or other employees, then it’s time to have a meeting and discuss the situation. This is considered a “verbal warning,” even though you’ll also make note of the meeting in the manager’s file. Include the date and a summary of what was discussed.

Once you’ve issued the verbal warning, monitor the situation to see if the employee improves his work efforts or attitude. Often, this first warning will get him back on track. If not, it’s time for a second verbal warning.

If the person continues to cause problems, the next step is to issue a written warning. This is your first step toward ushering a difficult employee out the door. Many companies will issue just one written warning, often followed by a 30-day probationary period, before termination. Others use a system that might include up to three written warnings and longer probationary periods. Regardless, if the employee fails to improve, then it’s time to move to termination.

Most states operate as “employment at will,” meaning the employer or employee can terminate the employment at any time. If that’s the case, then why should you even issue verbal and written warnings? Because we live in a litigious society. Anyone can bring a lawsuit against anyone at any time. If you ever end up in court for a wrongful-termination suit, you’ll be able to show your effort toward not firing the person and that you gave him plenty of chances to improve job performance. Your documentation will show termination was your last resort.

The Termination

When there’s a problem, an employee will often see the writing on the wall. You’ve given him several warnings, so it’s no surprise when he’s called into the office one last time. One thing to remember is you should always let an employee go with dignity. If you handle the situation in a professional manner, the chance of any backlash from the termination will be less likely.

The best place to terminate an employee is a private office or meeting room close to an exit. There’s nothing worse than an upset manager having to walk through the workplace. Being fired, even when you know it’s coming, can be a blow to the ego. He may cry or be angry, so be prepared.

It helps to have another person in the room, such as a supervisor or even your attorney. This is especially important if you’re terminating someone who could become potentially hostile or even violent. The witness can also help defend your company in the case of false accusations. If you have a situation that’s out of the ordinary or you’re worried about legal ramifications, consult with an attorney in advance.

Before the meeting, be prepared by having the employee’s file ready, including all documentation and any termination paperwork. Have ready his last paycheck as well as any accrued vacation or bonus pay. This isn’t the time to be scrambling for these items.

Firing someone is an awkward and painful conversation. What should you say? Be direct, succinct and honest. Here’s an example:

Mary, after reviewing your work performance for the last two months, we’ve concluded this job isn’t a good fit for you. Because of that, today will be your last day. We thank you for working with us on a smooth transition and we wish you the best. You’ll have time to gather your personal items and we’ll assist you.

There’s no reason to have any further discussion. You already did that in your verbal and written warnings. This shouldn’t take longer than three minutes from start to finish. Don’t drag it out, as there’s nothing you can say or do that will make it any less painful for you or the manager. However, the employee may have questions, and you should be honest but guarded. Here are some examples of things you might be asked as well as responses to consider:

  • “Can you give me an example of what I did wrong?” Again, you’ve given him verbal and written warnings, so there’s no need to go into detail. Simply state it’s already been covered in these warnings.

  • “Will I get a reference from you?” References are tricky. Legally, the only thing you have to state when someone calls you for a reference are the employment dates and position of the employee. It’s probably best to stick to this.

  • “Can I file for unemployment?” A good answer would be to tell the person that he’s free to pursue unemployment. Whether he receives it isn’t up to you.

  • “Are you going to tell the other employees I was fired?” Let him know that you won’t tell his co-workers or tenants that he was terminated. Moving forward, simply say the employee is no longer working for the company.

  • “Do I get any severance?” The employee is due any unpaid wages, vacation pay, etc.; however, a severance package over and above what’s due is up to you.

At this time, collect any keys to the property the employee has in his possession. Consider changing the office locks and any security codes. A facility audit and inspection should follow within days of the employee’s termination. You’ll also need to arrange staff coverage for the facility until you’ve hired a new manager.

One final note: If you catch an employee stealing and you can prove it, terminate him immediately. In this scenario, there’s no need for verbal and written warnings. You should also file a police report the same day.

Resident Managers

Terminating an employee who lives on site is more complicated. If you have a resident manager, you need to have an apartment lease in place, signed and dated by you and the manager upon employment. The lease should state that the manager will reside on the property, and upon termination, he has X days to vacate the space. The lease can also be used to start eviction proceedings if the employee refuses to leave.

When you terminate a resident manager, you’ll need to discuss when he’s expected to vacate the dwelling. Be reasonable. You can’t expect someone to pack up his home in a few hours. You need to remember that this person has now lost his job and his home. Give him time to find a new place to live, but don’t let him take advantage of your generosity. The onsite residence is usually a part of the manager’s compensation package, so you don’t want to offer a rent-free home for too long.

On vacate day, conduct a final walk-through with the employee. Some owners will hang onto vacation or bonus pay until the walk-through is complete. I suggest you discuss how to handle this with an attorney to make sure you’re not violating any labor laws.

If the manager’s apartment abuts the office, separated by only a door, you’ll need to take precautions so the employee can no longer access the office this way. Of course, you’ll collect his keys upon departure; but again, it’d be wise to change the locks and any security codes as well.

A candidate who looks good on paper or even during the interview process can sometimes be the wrong hire. Discovering this person is a bad fit for your company is upsetting. Instead of dwelling on it, take the steps needed to quickly rectify the situation. Start documenting, be prepared to begin the final termination process, and let the person go with dignity and respect. Consider what you’ve learned in the process, and then start looking for the right employee!

Pamela Alton is the owner of Mini-Management Services, a nationwide self-storage manager placement service. She also conducts audits and inspections, manager training, and feasibility studies. For more information, call 321.890.2245; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.mini-management.com.

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