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The recent high-profile termination of actor Charlie Sheen from the hit show “Two and a Half Men,” and rumors that he might return to his old job, shine a spotlight on the pros and cons of rehiring a terminated employee.
Robert Mather, CEO of Pre-Employ.com, which processes pre-employment background checks for employers, schools and volunteer groups around the world, has rehired several employees his company has fired over the years.
Sometimes the employees were fired because of criminal matters, and “we have had both good and bad experiences” rehiring a terminated employee, he said.
While workers convicted of crimes that displayed poor character and inadequate planning failed to work out when rehired, he has found that an employee guilty of “spur-of-the-moment” bad decisions that seemed out of character did well when rehired.
Mather pointed to the time his company discovered that an employee was under indictment for a crime that, much like a school bus driver awaiting trial for driving under the influence, impacted directly the man’s ability to safely perform his job.
After obtaining the public criminal records and speaking with the employee, the company suspended him, Mather said. There were no other positions for which the man was qualified, he added.
The company fired him once he was convicted and sentenced, but it rehired him about a year later when the man applied for a different position and passed a new background check. He met the qualifications, and his conviction did not affect his ability to perform the job or present a risk to other workers or the organization.
“Surprisingly, morale improved. We were seen as a ‘fair’ employer who gives people every chance to succeed and recover from previous mistakes. My fear was that employees would feel the opposite,” Mather said. “They did not.”
The man stayed with the company until moving out of state for another opportunity.
Time can soften an organization’s memory—to its detriment—of a terminated employee, says Troy Harrison, president of SalesForce Solutions, a sales training and development company. He has worked in more than one organization that has rehired someone it fired.
“Much like an ex-girlfriend (or boyfriend), time tends to emphasize the positive memories and de-emphasize the negative habits that got the person fired in the first place,” he told SHRM Online in an e-mail.
“Usually with promises of how the employee or culture has changed, companies turn to past employees in an attempt to shortcut the hiring and learning curve. It doesn’t work. Never is a long time, but I’ve never seen it work,” he said.
Honeymoon Period, but Then …
Typically there is a short honeymoon period when the person returns, followed by a period of destructive behavior or nonperformance, according to Harrison.
“The length of this period is limited only by management’s patience and willingness to admit a bad decision,” he said. “While I’m sure there is the occasional tale of the employee who returns triumphantly and succeeds,” Harrison added, “those are the smallest of percentages.
“Given the small chances of success, I always advise my clients to conduct a full hiring process as opposed to trying the shortcut.”
What is the circumstance that led to the termination? That’s the first question that comes to her mind when considering whether to rehire an employee the organization fired, said Cornelia Gamlem, SPHR, president of Virginia-based HR consulting firm GEMS Group Ltd.
Rehiring might make sense, she said, if the employee had personal issues that have been resolved, was fired for poor performance but since has acquired new skills, or is applying for a position that suits them better.
“It’s not necessarily having that short [organizational] memory but looking at a new situation and looking at the facts that exist at the time the new hiring decision is being made,” she said. The advantage for the company is that it’s gaining someone who knows the organization and its culture.
“The learning curve may not be as steep as bringing in someone who is brand new,” she said.
Other questions she says HR should consider:
“You really want to get some legal advice before entertaining bringing the person back,” Gamlem said. “If I were advising a client, these would be some of the questions I would lay out.”
She recommends that employers brief managers on how to respond to some of the employee questions that might arise about rehiring the fired employee so they do not say anything that breeches confidentiality or violates company policy.
“Do you have some kind of communication guide so that everybody is saying the same thing if it is questioned,” even if it’s to note that “we’re not going to talk about Charlie’s past history, we’re moving forward.”
Behavior at the Charlie Sheen level, though, is a major employee relations issue, she said.
“Going around bad-mouthing the company—why would you even consider talking to the person again?” Gamlem said. “That’s always the kind of thing you stop and analyze: What’s going on?”
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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