With so many high profile firings making headlines on both the political and media fronts, we thought it might be a good time to offer up some best practices on how to go about terminating an employee. Let’s face it, firing a worker is never an easy situation…but there are certainly ways to make it easier! Using the proper etiquette to let go of an employee is not only essential for preserving their dignity and keeping up workplace morale but can protect you legally as well.
Here are ten suggestions that can make one of the hardest things you can do as a boss just a little bit more bearable.
Make Sure It’s Legal
Of course, dismissing an employee that’s just not working out for your business is legal…after you double-check you are covered in an employment law sense. There are many procedural things to take into consideration to ensure you don’t get accused of discrimination or some other legal liability. As these sorts of laws can vary widely from state-to-state, check out your local Department Of Labor website. Or better yet: just clear this all with your attorney!
Do It Face-To-Face
It’s true: firing someone is unpleasant! The temptation is there to just send a text or email and get the deed done as quickly and impersonally as possible. Such a course of action, however, would definitely be a big mistake: it leaves room for misinterpretation, could get you in trouble legally (if it violates some sort of pre-existing contract), and can make you look like kind of a jerk. Plus: it is super-easy for said employee to forward your email to other staff members or even the press. Let go of your employee in person!
Have A Witness Present
As with many of the tips here, it all goes back to cover yourself legally. If you fire your worker in a closed-door meeting and you have no other person present…it boils down to your word against the soon-to-be ex-employee. They could say anything was said or took place there, and such claims can possibly be used in a legal appeal of the termination. That’s why it’s most ideal to have the head of your HR department also present, or at least another trusted worker.
Be Really, Really Sure Why You Are Firing
OK, this one is a little tricky. You need to be really clear why you’re terminating the employee, and this should have been a process that started way before the fateful day. Ideally, you and/or your HR head would have documented any poor work performance issues as they happened, and touched base with the worker every step of the way.
During the actual firing, however, you don’t want to be as specific in your reasons for termination…because, after the employee leaves, you may find out even more things they did wrong that you might need to pursue legally. Your specificity during the termination might legally box you in later. Instead, keep it more open-ended and refer to the worker’s past reviews (“as we both know, there have been some problems…”).
Give Prior Warning Beforehand
As we’ve touched upon in Tip #4, a worker termination should be a process…not an event that seemingly comes out of nowhere. While there are certain extenuating circumstances in which a sudden firing may have to happen, ideally you want to give your worker room and direction for improvement. You can utilize a performance improvement plan (PIP) to work with your employees and help guide them to being a better fit for your company. That being said, there are instances where it’s very clear that a worker is not right for the job. That leads to Tip #6…
Be Really, Really Clear Why You Are Hiring
If you are about to fire an employee, this may be a little bit of a “late” suggestion. Still, it’s worth a mention to avoid such situations in the future. Before you hire a person, really make sure–to the best of your ability–that this is the right person for the job. Have a very highly defined list of job duties, and ensure that this person has the qualifications to execute them. Do a background check and follow up on references. Perhaps have other people in the company besides yourself do additional interviews with the applicant, and compare notes. Careful vetting at the beginning can make all the difference.
Regarding Employee Access To Company Information Systems
This is a thorny subject, because in one way–from the employee’s point of view–it seems very draconian and unfair. A worker is let go, but no longer has access to their email. They want to send out a “goodbye” message to their former co-workers, but can’t. They may want to grab certain files they were working on for their portfolio, but their server password is revoked.
The other side of the coin is: a particularly vengeful ex-employee can cause MASSIVE havoc to your computer information system with relative swiftness and ease. A virus can be introduced, files could be deleted en masse, information can get hacked/stolen, and so on. You have to cut off the worker’s access to these systems shortly before, or during, the termination process, and IT might have to be involved.
That said, you can still work with said ex-employee to do things like passing along a goodbye note they wrote or sending them some specific files of their work they’ve asked for (though again, you might want to consult with your lawyer or HR head before doing this).
Have Pertinent Information Ready To Provide
When an employee gets fired, there are going to be a ton of questions running through their mind–and you can make this painful process easier for them by having answers at the ready. When will they be getting their last paychecks, for example? Is there a severance package? How long do their benefits last past the termination date? What about their unused vacation and paid time off days? And so on. You should already have all that information prepared before that crucial meeting. Failure to do so can create extra tension where there doesn’t need to be. Consult with your HR head, operations manager, payroll provider, lawyer, and whomever else you need to in order to get all your ducks in a row here.
Tell Your Employees About The Firing As Soon As Possible
We live in a world of texts, instant messaging, and social media. If you don’t take charge of the news regarding an employee termination…somebody else will, and soon! The very fact that the worker was let go at all–especially if they were well-liked–can lessen worker morale. Then there can be the paranoia that perhaps the company is experiencing financial difficulties and that was why the employee was let go.
The idea here is to inform your workers about the firing, and give a very basic reason for the event (“it was just not working out”)…but respect the ex-employees dignity and don’t go into the “gory” details (if indeed there are any at all). How you express this situation to your employees has an impact on the way they see you and the company.
There is no room for you to express personal animosity towards the ex-worker, vaguely “threaten” other workers that they could be “next,” or anything like that. Even if it was very warranted, the firing of a staff member can be sort of “traumatic” to everyone at your business, and you want to seek to ameliorate that with calm and trust as much as possible.
Be Graceful And Compassionate
Your mileage may vary as to how much relative grace and compassion you can demonstrate during a firing. In the end, it’s all about telling someone who was, in a sense, part of your “family” that they have to go. It’s tough, and awkward, and is one of those realities of workplace life that is unavoidable at one time or another. That all being said, the care, forethought, and empathy that you can bring to the table here can make all the difference. And an overly-harsh dismissal, done in a sloppy way, can make it far more likely that the ex-employee in question might respond with a lawsuit or other legal inquiry…or just bad-mouth you & your company in the court of public opinion!