Production Pointers: Labor management


Aug. 13, 2009

Dairy farm employee dismissals: treat with caution

Emotions often are high on both sides during the involuntary termination of a worker’s employment. Dismissals must be handled with great care, according to Vera Bitsch, Michigan State University Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics.

Careful selection, training and management decisions will hep reduce the number of dismissals. A dismissal should only be considered after other options have been tried and did not lead to the desired results.

Except in cases of gross misconduct, the dismissal should not come unexpected to the employee. Managers need to make sure that sufficient opportunities for behavioral changes were provided and a fair disciplinary process was followed. In addition, regular evaluation of an employee’s performance and a paper trail regarding performance appraisals and disciplinary actions are essential should a terminated employee challenge the dismissal in court.

Wrongful discharge

Michigan (and other states) is an at-will employment state. In the absence of a contract stating otherwise, the employee can resign at any time and for any reason, and the employer can terminate for any reason or with no reason. However, in the past 50 years, the common law based at-will doctrine has eroded in several ways. Therefore, a terminated employee may file a wrongful discharge suit against his or her former employer, causing substantial costs for dealing with this situation, even if the employee does not prevail in court.

Employers need to review and regularly update their employment documents, if they want to ensure an at-will employment relationship with their employees. However, less job security may also result in less loyalty from the employees.

Grounds for dismissal

There are basically four generally accepted causes for dismissal:

1) unsatisfactory performance

2) lack of qualifications for the job

3) changed requirements (or elimination) of the job

4) misconduct

Other recommendations

• The termination interview must be planned carefully, ahead of time. It is best to terminate in person in private, not by delivering a “pink slip” or over the phone. Because of the emotions involved in dismissals, unexpected incidents can happen. If the manager has any concerns, a second person present is a must. Listen to what the employee has to say and give him or her time to calm down and be reasonable. Identify the next steps, such as clearing out the locker and how to receive the last pay check. Preferably, the pay check should be ready before the termination interview. It will make sense to escort the terminated employee off the premises.

• Severance pay is a one-time payment or a salary continuation for a defined period after terminating. Whether as a reward, a gesture of goodwill or to deter disgruntled employees from filing a lawsuit, a written policy should govern the process. It should be equitable and not a source of unfair differential treatment.

• The employer should also consider how to deal with potential unemployment benefit claims by a dismissed employee. For an employer who pays unemployment taxes, the contribution will increase if unemployment claims are charged to the farm.

Source: April 2009 Michigan Dairy Review. To read the entire article, visit

A good start determines success

The things a new employee experiences on their first few days of employment can have a large impact on their success on your farm, according to Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension Educator-Livestock.

Preparation for a new employee must start before they arrive for their first day of work.  Preparations include legal work such as having W-4 tax forms ready; I-9 forms ready to verify an employee’s authorization to work in the U.S.; and “new hire” report forms for the state.  Be sure you have proper provisions made for workers compensation coverage.  Prepare an employee file so all the necessary paperwork and records are in one place and easily found when needed.

Besides the legal matters, employers need to plan how they will start new employees on the job.  That planning should answer the following questions.

* Who will meet new employees, showing them where to put extra clothes or their lunch?

*  Where are time cards kept and how are they completed?  When is payday?

* What are the policies employees are expected to follow on the farm?  Are you providing an employee manual?

* What are the work hours?  When is the employee expected to report to work?  When are breaks and how long are they?

* Who will spend time with the employee their first day?  Will the owner/manager be the one who shepherds the new employee around the farm, or will it be another experienced employee?

* Will the new employee be given a good overview of the entire farm operation so they gain an understanding of what happens besides their specific job, or will they be directed straight to their new job?

* Will someone show them where to find appropriate supplies, tools, equipment and people, or will they be put out in the barn and left to fend for themselves?

* Where is safety equipment found on the farm?

* To whom does the new employee report?

* Who is going to introduce the new employee to the rest of the staff?

* If they have a question about their work, whom do they ask?

These are certainly not all the topics employers should be ready to address with new employees, but they do lay a good foundation.

Conducting a good orientation with new employees shows you care about them and their success on the farm.  You want to do everything you can to help them become contributing members of the team that makes your farm successful.  You want to show all your employees they are important, but if new employees aren’t well engrained in the system in the first few months, there is a much greater chance they will leave the farm.

Source: University of Minnesota Dairy Connection. To read the full article, visit

Elsewhere on

People Power: Anger – Emotion or Behavior?

Have you experienced the following reaction recently: “Wow! I never saw that person so angry?”

A “yes” answer is not surprising.  With the challenges facing both agriculture and our economy, anger is a common response.

Anger is both an emotion and a behavior.  Understanding and reacting appropriately and thoughtfully to the differences is crucial, according to Robert Milligan, senior consultant, Dairy Strategies LLC.

To read Milligan’s latest column, visit

Ag labor: Anger – Productivity, excellence and giftedness

According to Gregorio Billikopf, University of California:

Productivity = Ability x Motivation

By productivity, he means a combination of speed, quality and discernment. Ability is what a person can do. Motivation is what a person will do. If either ability or motivation comes close to zero, then productivity will be near a flat line. If motivation is very low, it matters little how much potential a person may have. If talent in an area is very low, it also matters little how much motivation and desire to improve a person may have.

To read Billikopf’s column, visit