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Public Termination: Where Jerry Maguire Got it Wrong

Written by Complete Payroll

Public Termination_ Where Jerry Maguire Got it Wrong - Complete Payroll

Remember that scene in the movie "Jerry Maguire", where Jerry's protégé Bob Sugar takes him out to lunch and - SPOILER ALERT - fires him? 

"In a crowded restaurant. So I won't make a scene..." Jerry responds. 

On paper, this may seem like a good way to conduct an employee termination. After all, terminating an employee can be a tense, emotional situation that an already volatile employee may escalate quickly with an unruly outbursts. It may seem logical that conducting the termination in a public place, and with no warning, may seem like a good recipe for mitigating such a reaction.

However, this flies in the face of everything we know about the proper way to conduct an employee termination meeting. Let's take a look at what Bob Sugar did wrong, and what you can learn from it. 

He Conducted the Termination Meeting in Public

This was a calculated move on Bob Sugar's part. He counted on the fact that Jerry would not want to cause a scene in a public place, so he invited him to lunch at a crowded diner. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Jerry became enraged that Sugar showed so little respect for him; believing that Jerry would react so unreasonably. In doing so, Sugar only seemed to rile Jerry up more, thus bringing on the outburst he thought he was avoiding. 

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The Lesson: When terminating an employee, you should always do so with the utmost concern for the employee's dignity, no matter how egregious the offense is that the employee is being terminated for. This means conducting the meeting in a private room, away from the sight of others and close to an exit, in case the employee needs to step out quickly to collect themselves. 

He Blindsided Jerry

After Jerry Maguire wrote his "The Things We Think and Do Not Say" mission statement about taking on fewer clients and distributed it to his colleagues, no disciplinary action was taken. In fact, when he returned to work the next day, he was greeted with a standing ovation! He 

The Lesson: While all terminations unavoidably come with a certain modicum of shock, proper communication can ensure that the employee being terminated is never completely surprised by their termination. Expectations should be clearly established and communicated when a new employee first joins your team, in the form of a well-crafted employee handbook. That handbook should also communicate what disciplinary consequences an employee should expect if they fail to meet those expectations. This prevents an unnecessary escalation of an already tense situation. 

Furthermore, it sends an unfavorable message to your existing employees. The next time they are invited by management to an off-site lunch meeting, how can they trust that they are not going to be terminated in the same fashion?  

Bob Sugar is Not Jerry's Boss

It is clear in the film that Bob Sugar is Jerry Maguire's younger protégé and not his superior. Sugar was recruited by management to carry out Jerry's termination for reasons not explained. However, it is hard to imagine a satisfactory explanation for a manager that has an employee's subordinate do their dirty work for them. 

The Lesson: This should go without saying, but the person terminating an employee should always be that person's superior, equal, or someone from the human resources department. Again, this speaks to the above points about respecting an employee's dignity, and taking the proper steps to avoid or minimize any sense of surprise.

Beyond simply being poor practice to conduct employee termination meetings in the way Bob Sugar did, it can also leave your company vulnerable to legal action. For instance, holding the meeting in a public place 

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