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Dismiss with Dignity

Having to end a professional relationship is never easy. Figuratively speaking, it can be likened to removing a plaster from your hand. From one perspective, it can be removed with relative swiftness; followed by discomfort, then ultimately, relief. Observed in another light, it can be done gradually, and seemingly prolongs the inevitable in its wake.

Nevertheless, I believe that what makes this action ‘acceptable’, equates with how both employer and employee would have treated each other in the lead-up to the dismissal, as well as the actual act of dismissal. Unfortunately, there are many in the modern workplace who are still hard-pressed to learn the fine art of savoire-faire, basically meaning knowing what to do (and, I should hasten to add, when and how to do it).

At the basic human level, no right-thinking person wants to be definitively labelled as ‘tacky’, ‘callous’, ‘vindictive’, ‘biased,’ or, ‘crass’. Yet, that is the unfortunate, lasting-memory that some employers and employees have of each other, when their work relationship ends.

So, is there ever a proper way to dismiss an employee?

Put simply, yes, there is. It basically boils down to respect for any individual who is not us. Granted, there are times when it is arguably far easier and pragmatic to slowly phase an employee out of the workspace. Nevertheless, I believe that that option should be the absolute rare exception and not the norm, as the workplace should continue to be evolutionary in its procedures, and corresponding application of the same. Furthermore, this ‘space’ ought to be the forum where mature, sober discussion and constructive guidance should be promoted and applied daily.

Yet, constructive dismissal tends to go against this philosophy. It is basically taking the easy way out and leaving the employee generally uncertain as to where they erred and what could have been done better. Examples of this technique include: (i) Gradually reducing the duties and responsibilities of an employee; (ii) Gradually assigning an employee any duties that are in stark contrast to and far more basic than the professional qualifications and/or job specifications of him/her; (iii) Gradually reducing their visibility on the job or in the workspace e.g., by not inviting them to participate in vital team/unit meetings, et cetera.

Though the employer’s genuine intent might have been to prevent ‘hurt feelings’, such passive-aggressive action can actually create the contrary effect. It can leave the employee in question feeling hurt, upset, embarrassed, disappointed, angry, and even disillusioned by such treatment, particularly where both parties would have enjoyed a relatively civil working relationship. Further, it still leaves that employee in the dark as to what they did (or did not do) that resulted in the employer’s action, and what could have been improved. Is that any way to build an individual or even a society?

Constructive dismissal is a two-edged sword, a good servant and a terrible master. Let the user beware.

Keywords: LinkedIn Local Caribbean, constructive dismissal, passive-aggressive, job, duties

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