It’s as difficult to fire someone from Hawaii state government as it is from the federal government, Civil Beat has learned.

Just 67 employees out of 14,000 were fired from Hawaii state agencies in 2010, less than half of 1 percent, according to data provided by the Department of Human Resources Development at the request of Civil Beat. Five of the 67 employees were subsequently rehired by the state.

The percentage fired in the federal government is essentially the same, according to the website Politifact.com. The website researched a claim by then-Presidential candidate John McCain that “the failings in our civil service are encouraged by a system that makes it very difficult to fire someone even for gross misconduct…”

The Pulitzer Prize winning website found that his statement was “mostly true.” About 8,000 to 10,000 federal employees are fired annually out of a workforce of about 1.86 million. That’s about 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent terminated each year.

Don Kettl, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told the website that it’s too hard to fire poor performers and that few experts who study the issue would disagree.

“The federal civil service is hamstrung by antiquated rules,” he said. “We need to make it easier to fire poor performers.”

The Hawaii figures reflect all state workers except those in the Department of Education, the University of Hawaii, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Judiciary and the Legislature.

The terminations were for reasons other than layoffs or staff reductions. Some examples of reasons included attendance, misconduct, poor performance, failure to return from leave and not meeting requirements, according to the Human Resources Department.

State agencies have to be careful when firing an employee. A detailed checklist, found in Hawaii Revised Statute 76-41, explains the steps required of a state agency before it can legally release a poor performer. The steps include:

  • The evaluation process and its consequences were discussed with the employee;
  • The employee was made aware of the employee’s current job description and job-related performance requirements;
  • The evaluation procedures were observed, including providing the employee the opportunity to meet, discuss, and rebut the performance evaluation and apprising the employee of the consequences of failure to meet performance requirements;
  • The evaluation was fair and objective;
  • The employee was provided performance feedback during the evaluation period and, as appropriate, the employee was offered in-service remedial training in order for the employee to improve and meet performance requirements;
  • The evaluation was applied without discrimination; and
  • Prior to the end of the evaluation period that the employee is being considered for discharge due to failure to meet performance requirements, the feasibility of transferring or demoting the employee to another position for which the employee qualifies was considered.

The employee has the right to appeal any termination.

It’s clear that a Donald Trump-esque, “You’re Fired!” doesn’t quite fit the bill when it comes to public employment.

A federal study in 1999 found that many federal supervisors refused to take action against poor performers because of perceptions of the difficulty of firing employees.

The supervisors cited a lack of management support, dislike for the tedious and time-consuming process and a fear of employee grievances for their actions.

One supervisor in the report claimed his agency had a tendency to encourage supervisors, “not to ‘rock the boat’ by giving a less-than-fully-successful performance rating, let alone proposing to demote or terminate an employee for poor performance.”

Other supervisors claimed it was an unwritten policy to avoid any situation that could lead to an appeal or lawsuit.

The private sector in the United States operates with different rules governing firing employees.

All states, except for Montana, are “At-Will” states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “At-Will” means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, so long as it isn’t an illegal reason.

“At-Will” also means an employer can change the terms of employment with an employee at any time, the NCSL says. America is one of a handful of countries with at-will employment. Among the reasons the NCSL cites for the U.S. favoring at-will employment are respect for freedom of contract, employer deference and the belief that both employers and employees favor an “At-Will” employment relationship over job security.


DISCUSSION: What do you think about the number of employees fired in 2010? Share your thoughts*