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Issue: Managers often unwittingly put your organization at risk when terminating someone.

Risk: One wrongful-termination lawsuit or discrimination complaint can bury you with paperwork and sully your organization's reputation.

Action: Use the five mistakes outlined below, and the steps to take noted after each one, to raise managers' awareness of termination tripwires.

The price for wrongful termination includes the potential for lengthy and expensive legal battles. Here are five firing mistakes managers commonly make, along with ways that you can help prevent them.

Mistake 1: Failing to understand the law. Too often, managers believe "employment at will" means they can fire anyone for any reason. Not so. By misinterpreting or ignoring basic anti-discrimination laws, managers imperil your organization and, in some instances, themselves.

Your move: Persuade your organization's leaders that managers, supervisors and other decision makers need to be trained in employment law basics. That includes disseminating a list of interview questions they may not ask and devising a step-by-step termination process.

Mistake 2: Failing to document. If charged with discrimination, your organization will have to prove that the termination was business-related. Managers who fail to document policy violations and poor performance make it difficult to support the organization's defense.

Your move: Make sure managers support any employment actions, including firings, with complete and appropriate documentation. Ask the top brass to re-quire managers to consult HR before firing anyone.

Mistake 3: Failing to document objectively. Documents that include managers' personal comments, overstatements and emotionally charged language will undermine your defense in a wrongful-termination suit.

Your move: Documentation alone is not enough. Train managers to exclude hyperbole and emotion from written notes and evaluations. Stick to the objective facts.

Mistake 4: Delivering the termination message poorly. The most common pitfalls: Beating around the bush ("It looks as though we may not be able to continue your employment here") and making statements that could bind the organization ("If it had been up to me, I wouldn't have made this decision").

Your move: Assist managers in rehearsing the message, using written talking points, if necessary. Urge managers to conduct termination meetings in quiet, private areas, and to carry them out in an unhurried, professional manner.

Mistake 5: Failing to prepare for the worst. Termination meetings are stressful and emotional. Even the most even-tempered employee may react angrily.

Your move: Warn managers to respond calmly but firmly to emotional outbursts, threats or finger-pointing. In volatile cases, urge managers to notify security personnel before the meeting.

Maria Greco Danaher heads the Employment and Labor Law Practice Group at Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., in Pittsburgh. She regularly represents and counsels employers in employment-related matters. Contact her at (412)392-5653 or danahem@dmclaw.com.

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