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Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Not Firing Paula Deen

Posted on: June 27th, 2013 | Category: Employee Relations, HR Documentation, Human Resources, Our Blog, Terminations

Unless you’ve been hiding under your desk for the past week (or taking our advice while on vacation), you probably have heard by now about how celebrity chef Paula Deen was fired by Food Network. This action was proceeded by Deen’s admission that she had told racial jokes and used racial slurs in the past during a deposition for a $1.2 million discrimination lawsuit. She and her brother, Bubba Hiers, are being sued by former employee who alleges that sexual harassment and a hostile work environment occurred at their restaurant in Savannah, Ga.

Other companies are dropping Deen as a sponsor in the wake of the news and revelations swirling around her as well. Reactions by the public and media have run the gamut. From an HR perspective, this case brings up the issue of how involuntary dismissals of non-celebrities are handled. We found some interesting insights on the subject in a blog post entitled “Firing Paula Deen? That’s Cake. But Why’s It So Hard To Fire Others?” by Rob Asghar over at

The real issue, within American management, is that that dismissal for violations of clear, pre-negotiated performance expectations happens much less often than it ought to.

Why? It’s because:

  1. Some managers fire others for the pettiest of reasons, knowing that the poor, discarded employee probably doesn’t have the time, budget or nerve to fight back in a meaningful way.
  2. At the other extreme, the vast majority of managers worry that firing even the most toxic employee is some kind of inhumane act. Nervous legal and HR departments, wary of lawsuits, salute and reinforce this tendency toward over-caution.

Managers must negotiate, set and enforce clear benchmarks for their subordinates’ performance, so that it’s visible to all when the subordinate hasn’t lived up to expectations.  But most don’t.  Many timid managers may resort to acts of hypocrisy, like, say, canning under-performers for minor technicalities. 

We’ve shared some of the more outrageous stories about bad firing practices on our blog earlier in the year, so we would have to agree with the advice above. “Consistency, clarity and fairness in managing are important throughout your dealings with your employees,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. “This will help you in the event that you must let someone go, and it will help you maintain the best possible work environment for your best talent as well.” In addition, documentation is essential for dealing with situations where terminations are necessary. “Don’t blow off this paperwork. You don’t want things to come down to one person’s word against yours.”

And, of course, training and educating your managers so that they know how to work with and lead your employees in effective, compliant and results-yielding ways is always important too, says Hamilton. myHR Partner has fantastic resources and tools to offer, including training programs, assessments and employee surveys.learn more about hireVision's management training program

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