Almost all laws dealing with employment are designed to protect the employee, not the company. Minimum wage laws, workplace safety, independent contractor tests, minimum hours required for benefits, worker compensation insurance requirements and more are examples of such laws. Notice that every poster that is required to be displayed in a company public area (usually the lunch room) is posted for the benefit of the employee to inform him or her of rights granted by law. To most entrepreneurs, this often leads to an event whose resolution by a governmental agency or even a court seems unfair and illogical. Issues that seem clearly based upon ineptitude morph into age or gender-related epic battles that most always end poorly.
So my advice is simple. Recognize the realities of the times, and do all possible to protect the company by documenting behavioral or skill related problems to the employee file. Hold regular reviews for all your employees right to the top. (The chairman reviews the CEO, and if there is no separate chairperson, then the CEO should ask an outside board member to do so.) Encourage reviewers to be accurate, not just polite, in documenting areas of concern.
This is not to counter the advice of my earlier insight, “Fire fast, not last”, since every CEO should shoot for “A” class employees and not tolerate under-performers over time.
Dave, this is the exact, spot-on advice I wish I had known when I started my company. HR related matters seem unimportant next to building a proper culture, spending time with customers, etc. But the inevitable (or threatened) lawsuits that happen for justifiable firings–or even worse, the sapping of morale for letting underperformers ride too long, are an incredible drain on a company’s spirit and resources. I guess we know how angels earned their grey hair. PS–have enjoyed your frequent slots on the Frank Peters Show.