It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. But at some point or another, you have to do it.
While firing an employee isn’t enjoyable, there are ways to make it as painless as possible.
What’s worse than having to fire employees from your company? Finding out that former employee is badmouthing your company through social media and crowdsourced job sites, or worse—having a claim filed against your company that could land you in court.
If you’re in human resources, you are going to have to deal with these issues whether you’re the one having the conversation or handling the process that comes with it. Protecting your company when you fire someone doesn’t start the moment you have the “we need to talk” conversation. Protecting your company against lawsuits begins at the hiring process.
Follow these best practices to help protect you, your managers, and your company when you fire an employee.
Develop a Procedure.
From beginning to end, have procedures in place that will protect your company. Implement clauses in employee contracts that will protect your company even after the employee leaves. These could include non-compete agreements and rights to company data. Require an approval process (like a second signature) for someone to be fired to help prevent knee-jerk reactions or biased judgment.
Getting fired should never come as a surprise. Warn the employee that poor behavior or performance could lead to termination, and document the conversation. In your procedures you may have a system for how many warnings lead to suspension or termination, or this may be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Follow up on the warnings given. If behavior or performance improves, let the employee know. If it doesn’t improve, issue another warning with specific details about what happens next. Do not continue to issue warnings or they will lose their value and be ignored.
If firing an employee lands you in court, documentation will be your best weapon of defense. Document every offense, every warning, every conversation.
Be consistent and fair.
Treat all employees and all behaviors in a fair and consistent manner. If employee A and employee B have the same performance review scores and both show up to work late on a regular basis, don’t warn one over and over again and fire the other. Avoid any actions that could give ammunition to an employee to file a complaint with the EEOC for discrimination at work.
People respond to being fired in different ways—there may be tears, screams, or expletives involved. Ahead of time, prepare to have employee access removed from servers, listservs, etc, as well as any necessary passwords changed. Lay out next steps for the employee with information about final paychecks, COBRA options, and other human resource matters.
It may even be a good idea to have the employee leave the premises immediately with a scheduled time to return to obtain his or her things. According to Business Insider, it’s best to fire someone on Monday so the employee has the week ahead to sort out things and seek employment. Firing on Friday could lead to brewing anger and destructive activity over the weekend.
Give reason and provide examples (even at-will employees).
To help keep your company from coming up against claims for discrimination in the workplace, give reason why you’re terminating the employee and provide examples. Instead of, “Employee has a bad attitude,” try, “Employee displayed a bad attitude on several occasions by criticizing the company to new employees,” or “Refused to participate in teambuilding activities with co-workers.”
Even at-will employees should be given a reason for termination. Just because you can fire them or they can quit without cause or reason, doesn’t mean they can’t file a claim against your company or that you’re protected from said claims. To be safe, rule out any claims that could be made.
Bring a witness.
Never be alone when you fire someone. It’s important to have another person present when you terminate an employee to witness the conversation and be able to testify to what happened.
Be clear, honest, and firm.
Explain the reasons you’re terminating the employee in a clear and concise manner. Choose to be honest and firm about the situation even when it’s awkward. Sugarcoating can be confusing and indifference can be interpreted as discrimination and lack of compassion.
Lastly, to help protect yourself and your company, make it a practice to ask yourself these questions before you fire someone:
Could this be interpreted as workplace discrimination?
Is this a knee-jerk reaction or a thought-out response?
Is it believable?
If you’re in Human Resources, help your managers walk through these questions and protect your company from claims and lawsuits regarding workplace discrimination or the like.
Firing someone is never an enjoyable process, but you can take steps to make it less stressful both in the moment and later on down the road should any complaints arise.