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Questions Regarding Staff Separations

Answers compiled November to January, 2014-15

Staff Council compiled answers to these questions following emails with Jill Tiefenthaler, President; Gail Murphy-Geiss, Title IX Coordinator; and a meeting on January 13, 2015 with Barbara Wilson, Director of Human Resources, and Lisa Brommer, Senior Associate Director of Human Resources. As all separations involve confidential information, specifics cannot be discussed in detail, and practices can differ based on circumstances. Please contact Human Resources (hr@coloradocollege.edu) or Staff Council (staffcouncil@coloradocollege.edu) if you have any questions about this process.

1. What are the college’s formal procedures for terminating staff?

Answer: As noted in Human Resources’ document, Process for Reviewing Performance Concerns (originally created in August 2013), supervisors must follow a process before terminating staff, and HR meets with supervisors to ensure that they have done what they can to help an employee succeed at CC. There may be times when HR will not support a recommendation to end employment and will determine there has been insufficient communication or lack of documentation about the performance concerns. All termination decisions are carefully reviewed by the cabinet and the president before any action is taken.

2. What is the standard policy for escorting terminated employees off the campus?

Answer: There is no standard policy, but typically staff members are not “escorted” off the campus. HR aims to minimize the impact of a termination on both the employee and the department and to take precautions to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being. Campus Safety is sometimes asked to sit in during a termination meeting if there are safety concerns.

3. Could terminated employees be escorted off the campus after hours to avoid public humiliation?

Answer: Human Resources or Campus Safety very rarely “escorts” employees off the campus. Typically, the supervisor and the staff member work out an arrangement to gather any personal belongings, etc., and that can occur after hours or on the weekend. These arrangements minimize any unwanted attention to the departing employee.

4. What is the college’s severance policy?

Answer: The college has no formal severance policy. There are few occasions when a severance package is offered, and this requires approval by the president.

5. How can we receive better communication than hearing through the rumor mill or a student publication when someone is separated from the college, whether voluntarily or involuntarily?

Answer: On a monthly basis, staff hires and departures are published on the HR website, without any details on the departure decision. It is up to the departing employee to explain why she/he is leaving the college.

6. How will the college communicate only accurate information regarding separations?

Answer: Reasons for an employee’s separation (voluntary or involuntary) are a private and confidential matter and will not be communicated to the campus. HR assists the supervisor/department head to determine communication within the department. With an employee’s permission, an announcement may be made to the department or campus community upon departure.

7. Would it be possible for HR to create an outline of fireable offenses? Not every detail or possibility needs to be listed. For example:

  • Not performing duties
    • As listed in job description
    • Not to expectations as per evaluations
  • Stealing from the college
    • Stealing money whether by physical theft, embezzlement, or fraud, etc.
    • Taking college property to sell for personal gain
  • Sexual harassment and/or misconduct
  • Insubordination

Answer: The Staff Handbook has a section on performance and behavior expectations, and, if a staff member does not meet job expectations, his/her employment may be affected and corrective action may be imposed. Further, there are consequences for staff who steal, lie, etc. When the staff handbook was updated, Staff Council recommended to HR that the tone and message be positive and collaborative rather than punitive. For more information, please reference Human Resources’ document, Process for Reviewing Performance Concerns.

8. Are senior staff held to the same performance and disciplinary standards and procedures as regular staff?

Answer: Actually, at this level, cabinet members are held to higher standards. All cabinet members serve at “the pleasure of the president” as the president serves “at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees,” meaning that no notification of performance issues or performance improvement plan is required for their termination.

9. Can or does the president meet directly with people (especially long-serving staff) who are in danger of being fired, without other senior staff or HR present?

Answer: Yes, when requested by the employee.

10. What steps can staff members take if they feel they are being terminated unfairly?

Answer: Staff may talk to HR, Staff Council, the ombudsperson, the Title IX coordinator, cabinet members or the president, depending on the nature of the concern.

11. Will the college offer arbitration or some other method (a jury of peers, etc.) for staff to appeal a firing or disciplinary action?

Answer: The college does not have a formal appeals process for someone who is terminated. Staff have recourse outside the college (e.g., filing a lawsuit if they believe they were illegally terminated). When the question of appeals came up about a year ago, the president reviewed the college’s processes for addressing performance issues that could lead to termination of employment and determined that those processes are sufficient to ensure fair terminations.

12. How does the college protect whistleblowers?

Answer: The Anti-Discrimination Policy, Sexual Harassment Policy, Code of Ethical Conduct, the Staff Handbook, and other publicly available resources all state that the college will not retaliate against an employee who reports wrongdoing. As the Code of Ethical Conduct states, “Our campus community will not tolerate any adverse actions being taken in response to an individual communicating a concern.”

13. How does the college respond to acts of racism?

Answer: Accusations of racism are handled according to the Anti-Discrimination Policies and Procedures. As for acts of racism, Gail Murphy-Geiss, Title IX Coordinator, explained, “Most acts would have to be investigated in some fashion, as almost always there are competing accounts of an incident. Also, it is often the case that discrimination issues are mixed with other work/management issues. The former are handled by the Title IX/VII policies, while the latter are handled by supervisors and HR and coordinated as appropriate.” Barbara Wilson, as Deputy Title IX/VII Coordinator for Staff and Director of HR, helps staff determine if concerns expressed rise to the level of triggering the discrimination complaint process. An act of racism is subject to sanctions ranging from “brief/minor discussion with one’s immediate supervisor to termination, depending on the severity and pattern of the behavior,” confirmed Murphy-Geiss.

14. What will the college do to restore trust and morale on campus?

Answer: To promote a culture of transparency and good communication, the college has implemented a number of measures. Staff Council, in coordination with the President’s Office, started In the Loop meetings, the college implemented institutional policies and published a policies website, finalized the “Shared Governance at CC” document, emphasized internal communications (including within divisions), and added workshops on the compensation program, among additional changes.

However, this is a conversation for the entire CC community. In order to protect employees’ privacy and confidentiality, the college — just like any other employer — cannot discuss the details of separations. All of us have an individual responsibility related to helping restore trust and morale on campus.