He’s resigning but he is not really working either

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Q: We had a situation in my department, which I have never seen addressed in this column before.  We had a fairly new employee give their notice.  He gave his two weeks’ notice and we began preparing a transition plan for his work, and began searching for a replacement.  After about three days, he started arriving to work at around 10:30 am, when our department starts around 8:30 am.  Then he would leave for lunch and the lunch hour became the lunch hour plus another hour.  He also rarely focused on work and was on his cell phone a lot when he was there.  When an employee behaves like this, can we terminate him?

A: It sounds like this employee “checked out” and is no longer contributing.  I call this a “lame duck.”  This is a term which describes someone who has a limited time frame in their current role, but who is no longer contributing.  This behavior is more common than you may realize.

When an employee gives their notice of resignation, it is a good practice to ask them to develop a transition plan for their work.  The exiting employee should be the chief architect, not the manager or a co-worker.  It is ok for the manager (or another colleague) to provide him with the template, but the exiting employee should be the author.

During the employee’s last few weeks of work, he should be held to the same standards as he was before his notice period. There may be a 20-minute extension to a lunch but two-hour lunches and arrivals at 10:30 am should not be the norm.

Assuming this employee is “at-will,” and most employees are, you can terminate him during this period.  The downside of the termination is that he may be eligible for unemployment insurance and you would have to pay him all of his wages owed, including any unused but accrued vacation time.  By law, you have to pay him these wages on the day of termination.  Or you could also honor his resignation date and ask him to no longer report to the office.

Your question also triggers a related piece of advice.  Long notice periods are often difficult to manage.  I recently had a client who called me about a manager’s resignation.  They wanted to ask the exiting employee to give six weeks of notice, rather than the four weeks of notice that the employee offered in their letter of resignation.  I explained that often times the departing employee has “checked out” and is no longer performing as they once were.  Even if the employee is fully engaged, the employee would no longer be pulled into new projects or responsibilities, so my advice was to stick with the four months of notice.  In my experience, that is more than enough.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.