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June 15, 1998

Human Resources explains UCSC's termination policy

By Barbara McKenna

A long-standing myth at UCSC holds that once a person is hired on campus he or she can never be fired--no matter how poor the job performance. While it is true that employees at the university, unlike their private-sector counterparts, have, by law, a property right to their jobs and cannot have them taken away without due process, campus Human Resources administrators are seeking to dispel the myth that poor performers must be kept on indefinitely.

"People seem to believe that it's impossible to fire anyone at UCSC, or that the action takes forever and makes everyone involved miserable in the meantime," says Julia Armstrong-Zwart, assistant chancellor of Human Resources (HR).

"The fact is, there is a clearly defined process for addressing poor performance. Ideally, using this process, a supervisor can first work with an employee to develop ways to improve job performance, thereby avoiding a termination. But in a case where job performance is consistently poor and improvements do not occur, then a person can indeed be let go."

When poor performance continues for years without consequences, coworkers of the poorly performing employee who are working hard and often have to take up the slack become discouraged and morale suffers. Supervisors are advised by HR to follow a process of progressive discipline when poor performance continues after attempts have been made to correct the performance through coaching, counseling and/or training.

Progressive discipline means taking progressively more punitive forms of discipline, i.e., letters of warning, suspension, demotion, salary decreases. If performance or conduct does not improve, the final step is termination of employment.

"For the process to be effective, it's necessary for a supervisor to have the willingness to talk with the employee and to conduct annual performance evaluations," explains Valerie Simmons, director of EEO/Affirmative Action. "Performance evaluations should be conducted annually for every employee, whether or not there is a concern about job performance. And then, if concerns arise, the supervisor and the employee can try to work them out before they become a huge problem."

Armstrong-Zwart said that HR is focusing on ways to educate supervisors and to support them in using processes both to avoid and implement dismissals.

"We have a number of ideas for addressing this problem that we will put into place," she said. "We already offer performance management workshops and we would like to increase participation in those by working with principal officers. Additionally, we would like to see principal officers issue an annual call for performance evaluations and hold supervisors accountable for completing appraisals in a timely manner. We would also like to offer a more fully developed management development program for unit heads, as well as continue to educate supervisors on the dismissal process."

Several performance management workshops are planned for the 1998-99 year. For information, call Training and Development at (408) 459-5565 or visit the Web site at http://www2.ucsc.edu/train-dev/ and select "Classroom Training: Course Descriptions & Schedules."

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