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How to Fire an Employee – Six Steps

In the best of all possible worlds, you would never have to fire an employee. It is a situation most employers dread, not only because of the personal trauma, but also because it represents a failed investment in hiring and training. Employers, perhaps unrealistically, may fear legal liability under federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The best way to avoid having to fire an employee is to hire carefully and offer frequent, documented performance feedback and training opportunities. Nonetheless, sometimes it has to be done. You’ve probably already waited longer than you should have. Here are six simple steps to get you both through this day.

(1) Pick a target date. Some HR professionals advise not to fire an employee on Friday, thinking that employees are less likely to stew about the situation if they can start a job search immediately. The most important thing is to set a date, however.

(2) Make a plan that covers contingencies. Does your company have a position on giving references? Some employers have a policy of only confirming employment dates. Decide whether you intend to contest an unemployment claim and, if so, be prepared to explain this to the employee, but don’t be a jerk unnecessarily. How is your organization going to function without this employee? Is this termination likely to affect morale negatively? Consider how the employee is likely to react to this conversation.

(3) Very shortly before your meeting with the employee, assemble a “termination team” who can be trusted with confidential information. This may include an HR Manager, if you have one, who should bring information about the employee’s benefits on termination including severance, 401(k), healthcare continuation coverage, etc. In any event, ensure that you have a third party witness as proof against litigation. Alert IT so that passwords can be changed during the meeting and security if you expect the employee to become confrontational. Pick a neutral location with a door to ensure privacy.

(4) Call the employee and ask him or her to meet you at that location immediately. Close the door and announce the reason for the meeting immediately – no pleasant chit-chat. Be brief and respectful of the employee’s dignity. The less you say the better, particularly since, with documented performance feedback, this should be no surprise. Be clear that this is an irreversible decision, and allow the HR Manager to explain termination benefits, if any. These should be in writing and presented to the employee, since he or she will probably not absorb any information at this point. Expect tears.  Collect keys and any other company equipment or anything else that would allow the employee access to the business or sensitive information. Do not allow the employee access to the work area or coworkers but permit him or her to leave work immediately. Arrange for a supervised but before- or after-hours opportunity for the employee to collect personal belongings. Wish the employee well in future endeavors and shake hands, if you can. It is usually not necessary to require someone to be escorted out.

(5) Don’t say anything beyond the obvious to other employees, ever. “Bill is no longer with the company,” is all you need to say. You should probably expect some employees to need reassurance.

Well, that was awful – worse for the other guy, really, but that’s why you’re boss. Let’s think in positive ways about how to avoid this in the future. You may be feeling some relief. If you stay in business, you will have to fire an employee again, but not frequently, we hope.

(6) Take yourself out to lunch or the gym because, by 1:30 pm, you need to be back to business.

Legally Sound | Smart Business Episode 20

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Nasir Pasha, Esq.

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Managing attorney and co-host of podcast Legally Sound | Smart Business

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