How to fire an employee, the right way

By far my least favorite part of HR and management is firing employees. I am guilty of holding on to employees for far to long because I just wasn’t up for firing them or it wasn’t an ideal time to do so. Once I have made the decision to let an employee go I psych myself up so much the night before that I can’t sleep.  Then the morning of the big event I feel sick to my stomach. By the time it comes to sitting down with the employee I am shaking and usually forget most of the things I planned to say. I end up babbling on trying to make them feel better, but the truth is you will not make them feel better about it, they are getting fired! Here are some tips for making termination slightly easier and hopefully keep you out of a lawsuit.

Be prepared – If you are to the point of firing an employee you should have had numerous conversations about their performance issues.  Make sure you have documented the incidents and given them a reasonable amount of time to show improvement. This way it is of no surprise when they get fired and you don’t have to go into details.

Pick an appropriate time – Chose a time when other employees are gone for the day to avoid further awkwardness for the employee. I have read that you should never let someone go on a Friday so they don’t have the weekend to stew and come back angry, however a terminated employee is going to stew no matter what the day is. I actually prefer letting employees go on Fridays because it gives everyone a few days to decompress before the fresh start and changes on Monday.

Be clear – Don’t tip-toe around the point, just get straight to it. “I’m sorry but I have decided to let you go”. You can then give them a short explanation, but keep it short. If you are to the point of firing an employee they should have been provided with plenty of warnings, with the exception of the infraction being so big that they are being fired immediately without warning. You should also give them a termination notice that details the warnings and final reason for termination. You will need this if/when the employee files for unemployment.

Make it quick – Get in and get out. Be clear and don’t go into details, give them their final check (or let them know when they can expect it), termination notice, and have them gather their things.  Do not leave them unattended for too long.

Avoid details – I always make the mistake of thinking that they want to know exactly why they are being let go. They don’t, they want to get out of there as fast as they can to avoid further embarrassment.

Have a witness – I rarely have a witness with me, however I know this is a big mistake.  I once laid off a young man and the way he looked at me as he left made me a little scared for my safety.  That was the last time I let an employe go without a witness. You never know how an employee will react or what they will say after the fact to a lawyer.  To cover yourself and the company, make sure you have someone from HR or another manager with you.

Stay calm – Keep your emotions out of it, no one cares if you are upset, you are not the one losing their job.  I recently had to fire my assistant of two years who was constantly making costly mistakes.  I had written her up, I had suspended her, I had given her coaching and PIPs, but nothing helped, it was time to move on. When the day finally came I waited until everyone had left for the day so we were alone.  I told her I had to let her go, the mistakes weren’t getting better. I cried, she cried, we hugged. I don’t regret how the firing went down, we were close, we were friends, we had spent a lot of time together, I cared for her.  I don’t think there was any way that emotions could have been left out of it.

Meet with your other employees soon after – The day following the termination make sure you meet with your staff and tell them the employee is no longer with the company. Do not go into details, its not their business and no matter what you say it could be misconstrued as gossip. Delegate the jobs to other employees until you have a new team member to take over.  If there was a larger infraction leading to the termination you may feel it necessary to review your policies.  I once worked for a business where an employee was caught on camera coming in after hours and stealing money. The owners had installed cameras when they realized money was going missing.  After we terminated the employee they held a companywide meeting where they asked for a show of hands who all had noticed the cameras. Every employee raised their hand, the only person who had not noticed the cameras was the person stealing. They did not tell us in the meeting that money had gone missing but they reminded us that entering the building after hours was against policy and mentioned that the employee was no longer with us. They didn’t have to tell us what happened, the other employees filled in the blanks and were reminded of the rules.

Letting employees go sucks for everyone involved but its over quick and is usually what is best for the greater good of the company. Don’t hold onto employees that aren’t working out.  You know when enough is enough, you just have to push yourself to take care of it before they start to poison the well.

Here is link to a great article from Jeff Haden for called “The 10 Worst Things to Say When You Fire an Employee”.

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