You dread what you’re about to do. Even though you’ve decided your employee deserves to be fired, you hate firing anyone. You also fear the damage a fired employee might create by alleging wrongful termination.
If you’d like to fire without backfiring and in a way that leaves the fired employee with dignity, here’s what you need to know.
Do your job right
Have you done your job? Have you clearly let your employee know your expectations and given your employee the resources, training and support needed to do their job, along with corrective feedback and chances to improve? If so, you’ve minimized the risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit, and your employee made the termination decision by not doing their job. In short, it’s on the employee, not you.
Don’t terminate in haste
Never terminate “on the spot.” Talk with your employee first. You don’t want to learn, post-termination, that the employee had extenuating circumstances, some of which involve legally protected rights in areas such as disability or whistleblowing.
If you want your employee off your worksite, you can accomplish this by “suspending pending investigation,” a phrase which shows you aren’t making a hasty decision.
Act with compassion
When you take an employee’s job away, realize you might be leaving your employee stranded without enough money for rent, mortgage or car payments, food, or their kids’ school supplies. You might think your employee is prepared to hear “you’re fired,” but those words take many employees by surprise.
Listen to whatever your employee says. Listening shows respect. Your employee wants to say it. You need to hear it. You may learn you’ve overlooked crucial facts.
Be brief but not abrupt. While you don’t want to drag things out, if you’re brusque given your desire to get the meeting over with, you risk treating your employee without compassion.
Don’t justify your decision by attacking the employee or their performance, as that invites argument. A simple “A decision has been made. Your termination is effective immediately” suffices.
If your employee asks for an explanation, be brief and don’t say anything you’ll regret. Your employee may be recording your meeting.
Prepare with the employee in mind
Provide your employee with the information they’ll need, such as when their last paycheck will come, and whether it will include accrued leave or any severance. Let your employee know when their insurance coverage ends and whether they’re eligible for COBRA or outplacement services.
If you’ve boxed up their belongings, let them know when and how they can get them. If you’ll accompany them into their workstation so they can personally box up their belongings, have boxes available.
Don’t forget to request the return of any employer-supplied materials, such as keys, codes, cellphones and laptops.
Meet somewhere other than in your employee’s office and have at least two employer representatives present for safety and so you’ll have two individuals who can document what you say and what the employee says.
Have the meeting in a room with two doors so you can exit if a safety concern arises. If your employee has given you a reason to worry about safety, have a security guard present.
Notify IT so they can shut off your employee’s access to your network.
When you’re terminating remote employees, provide them the respect of an individual private videoconference meeting, with you and your witness present. Let your employee know in advance the meeting will be private, so they’ll know to do it outside the presence of their children or others.
Make sure you’ve documented all significant performance issues, because if a regulatory agency or attorney contacts you six months from now, you’ll want to be prepared. If you’re firing for cause, make sure you’ve investigated the situation and have treated similar employees and situations consistently.
If your employee has complained about a safety or wage issue, taken leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, filed a workers’ compensation claim or a discrimination or harassment complaint within the preceding six months, you’d be wise to ask an attorney for advice before making your termination decision.
Your other employees
Finally, let the rest of your team know that your employee has left, and that you wish the best for the employee, so they don’t walk past an empty desk or email an employee no longer on the team and wonder what happened.