Aretha Franklin: Human Resources Consultant

Singer Aretha Franklin, often dubbed the “Queen of Soul”, passed away this week at the age of 76. Though best known for her incredible 60’s-70’s soul music, Franklin’s beautiful and powerful voice transcended labels or genres.  She mastered the soaring majesty of opera and the beauty of rock ballads with equal magnificence.   Aretha was one of the all-time greats of any field of artistic endeavor.

In recent years, the Minnesota Employment Law Report reflected on the passing of two sports legends and how their messages translated into observations on human resource management. As we did in Yogi Berra: Human Resources Consultant and Muhammad Ali: Human Resources Consultant, we now consider how Aretha’s song titles offer similar guidance, especially when it comes to planning and implementing difficult termination scenarios.


This is one of Aretha’s biggest hits, as well as a caution to evaluate the correctness of the decision and the process for carrying it out.  Think about whether the employee has had adequate notice and training in regard to the matter upon which the termination is based.  Think about whether a quality investigation has been conducted.  Think about whether there is adequate proof of wrongdoing or inadequate performance

Think also about how the termination will take place.  Do you need another person with you and who will it be?  Have you made adequate arrangements to disable the employee’s access to your network and email system?  What will you identify as the basis for termination?

Think – simple advice but always on point.

Do Right Woman, Do Right Man

One of Aretha’s hits from 1967, this song reminds us even if there is clear proof of wrongdoing or inadequate performance, we have to be certain that the employee has been treated the same as other similarly situated employees?  Have others received the same level of discipline for the same offense and if not, is there a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the difference in response?

In order to “do right”, you have to do it in a nondiscriminatory manner.

Ain’t No Way / Don’t Play That Song

These two hits from 1968 and 1970 respectively remind us to always get the employee’s side of the story.  Regardless of how much evidence you have or how clear the matter appears, you always need to hold off on making a decision until you give the employee an opportunity to explain their version of events.  Otherwise, it may appear that you are rushing to judgement or have not conducted a fair investigation.  Besides, you might find that the employee is ready to acknowledge their poor performance or bad behavior.

Once you hear the employee’s story and find it unpersuasive, then you can say to yourself “Ain’t No Way” or “Don’t Play That Song.”  However, don’t say it out loud because you want to be sure to afford the employee some….


Aretha’s biggest hit is also her best advice to the human resources practitioner getting ready to discharge an employee.  Termination is difficult for the employee and it may engender a wide range of responses such as shock, embarrassment, panic or anger.  This is not the time to lecture, patronize or humiliate the employee.

No matter the cause for termination, most HR professionals tell us that treating the employee with respect and dignity goes a long way toward getting through a difficult situation and minimizing the potential for conflict later on.

Say a Little Prayer

Good advice for after the termination.