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How to Handle Staff Discipline and Termination in Your Self-Storage Operation

Self-storage employee discipline
Staff discipline and termination are unpleasant but necessary parts of any business, though they can be uncomfortable to administer. Here’s advice to help you take these actions in your self-storage operation when necessary.

For any self-storage owner or supervisor, disciplining or terminating an employee is a difficult situation you may want to avoid; but it’s a necessary part of business. To get through it with professionalism while protecting your operation from potential litigation, it’s best to be prepared with clear policies and protocols. Here’s some basic guidance.

Setting Expectations

Sometimes, when setting policies for your self-storage operation, it helps to begin with the end in mind. For example, consider the task of collections. In many ways, that work starts when you first rent the unit. During lease signing, the manager explains when rent is due and when happens when the tenant doesn’t pay on time. That sets the groundwork for the future relationship and expectations regarding consequences.

“De-hiring” an employee works similarly. Though you certainly aren’t planning to fire your new hire—on the contrary, you hope they’re around a good long time—you need to set company expectations and the consequences for failing to meet them. In short, you need policies and procedures firmly in place.

Employee discipline and termination is part of managing staff. If and when the honeymoon ends and things go south, you need to know how you’re going to “divorce” that employee. When you fill a position, craft a Letter of Employment that covers job duties, compensation and goals. This helps set the rules and your expectations. You must also have a concise policy and procedures manual that covers an array of topics including disciplinary action. It should clearly explain the process for verbal and written warnings, termination, and exit interviews.

During the initial onboarding and training process, sit down with your new employee and go through this manual together. Explain it page by page, including the section that covers what’ll happen if they violate company policy. Have your new hire sign and date a document to acknowledge that they’ve read and understand the material and what’s expected of them.

Disciplinary Action

There are some very obvious incidents that should cause you to use disciplinary action with your self-storage staff. Employee theft is certainly the at the top of the list! In our industry, this includes accepting money from a customer for rent or a fee, but showing it as discounted or waived in the software and pocketing the cash. Another common betrayal is when they sell retail items for cash but don’t log the sales in the computer. For these kinds of offenses, you’re likely to fire the employee immediately—assuming you have proper proof, of course.

For lesser offenses, such as being rude or discriminatory toward a tenant, co-worker or supervisor, you might begin by issuing a verbal warning. The same might be true if the employee has been given proper training and understands their duties but isn’t doing their job well. Or perhaps they’re habitually late or simply unreliable.

Use a verbal warning when you want to nip a behavior in the bud and let the employee know a certain behavior won’t be tolerated. This is an initial disciplinary step before escalating to a written warning. Usually, the first verbal warning (sometimes it’s takes a second) let’s a staff member know you’re serious.

But just because it’s verbal doesn’t mean it’s informal. Make sure all warnings, written or verbal, are documented! In both cases, the documentation should cover what the employee did wrong as well as any corrective action taken, plus any mandated time for improvement.

If the behavior continues after a verbal warning, issue a written warning. In these cases, the employee needs to sign a document acknowledging the particular policy violation. Once you’ve written someone up, they’ll often seek employment elsewhere. They may quickly give notice and move on.

To temper potential volatility and maintain a solid record of documentation, I recommend using an escalating, three-strike policy of up to three verbal and three written warnings. Three strikes, and they’re out. If the employee fails to improve, then it’s time to move to termination.

Building disciplinary procedures in this manner will demonstrate to the Employment Development Department or other unemployment agency that you did everything possible to work with the team member prior to termination. By following your own written guidelines, you’ll be firing in the right. It’s the legal and safe way to keep your company out of hot water. It also sends a reinforcing message to other employees about what will and won’t be tolerated by upper management or ownership!

Termination

Once you’ve decided to terminate a self-storage employee, it’s best to make a surprise visit to the facility and let them go at the end of a workday. It’s usually quiet then, and you’re less likely to have tenants in the office. Obtain all facility keys, nametags and company uniforms, and count any cash in the drawer and petty-cash funds. You’ll also want to count inventory to ensure it matches what’s in the computer. If necessary, adjust totals to ensure things are correct for the next manager. Delete the fired employee’s computer passwords and remove the person as a contact with any vendors that may have access to your facility.

Prior to meeting with the employee, prepare their final check, including any bonuses, and give it to them when you let them go. If they’re on direct deposit, make sure the funds will be deposited into their account the next day. If it’s a resident manager, you may want to hold back any vacation or bonus pay until they vacate the apartment, but give them their paycheck. (I’ll address this situation in more detail below.) Finally, have a locksmith ready to change the office locks and staff lined up to assume the fired employee’s duties the following morning.

Having a fully documented termination plan in place will keep you organized during a difficult time. It can also save you a lot of grief if a disgruntled former employee tries to push for unlawful termination down the road.

A Quick Word on Resident Managers

Most self-storage employees come to work, fulfill their shift and go home, but this isn’t so with resident managers. Termination in this case is a very different situation. Not only are you relieving someone from their job, you need to get them out of the facility apartment.

As part of the hiring process, have the manager sign an apartment lease that covers things like who can live in the residence, what pets are allowed, how utilities are handled and what happens if there’s any property damage. In addition, have them fill out and sign a walk-through form. Most important, the lease must address what happens once employment ends, including how much time they have to vacate.

Even though you probably aren’t charging the employee rent, having a lease in place is protection against a disgruntled manager who feels they’re being wrongly terminated and refuses to leave the premises. Without a lease, you may have to go through the eviction process, which can be messy. It’s much easier to proceed when you have a signed document on hand.

Remember, preparation for staff discipline and termination starts when documents are signed at the beginning of employment. Being organized and professional will save you grief and make a difficult situation manageable for you and your self-storage team.

Pamela Alton is owner of Mini-Management Services, which has been placing self-storage managers in positions all over the United States since 1991. She also offers staff training, operational consulting, and facility audits and inspections. For more information, call 321.890.2245; email [email protected].

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