Firing an Employee

Firing and employee is never a pleasant situation, but it is often the best way to get your business back on the right track in a new office space. An unproductive or destructive employee can damage productivity and bring down company morale. There is a right way and a wrong way to fire an employee, and the wrong way can have severe legal ramifications. Take the time to reflect on the employee's performance, reasons for firing and the procedure you use for letting people go.

When a crime has been committed--theft or violence, for example--that person should be let go of immediately. Illegal activity is grounds for termination on the spot, and it is best for managers to send a clear message that those acts will not be tolerated. Other egregious violations of policy, like sexual harassment or plagiarism, usually call for some sort of investigation before termination. Actions that make the employee a liability but do not directly harm others, like absenteeism and low productivity, require a well-documented case against the employee to prevent a wrongful termination suit.

Wrongful termination is a legal term that describes a situation where the firing is in breach of the employment contract or violated state employment law. Discrimination is a common complaint in a wrongful termination suit, as is the employer not following proper termination procedures. If the employee can show that there were insufficient grounds for his termination, the company could be paying a large settlement or judgment. For this reason, it is paramount to follow clear guidelines for firing an employee.

Building Your Termination Case

When you have decided to fire an employee for violating company policy or becoming unproductive, you must gather some evidence to support your decision. This documentation is useful to present in court if you are sued for wrongful termination, and you can also use it in your meeting with the employee to justify your decision. Though defending your company against legal action is a top priority, you must also remember that all of your employees deserve their dignity. Even those who are being fired should be given an explanation.

One of your greatest tools is regular performance evaluations. Quarterly or annual reviews keep employees abreast of their performance and give them the opportunity to improve. These should be highly detailed, and employees should be given the opportunity to discuss them with a supervisor. After a string of bad reviews, firing should come as no surprise, so the employee has less of a case for wrongful termination and you have documentation of previous warnings.

Your human resources department, if one exists, should keep records of all significant employee interactions as well as attendance records. If the employee had a history of disagreements with others or frequent absenteeism, you can call on HR records to build your case. Your company policy may also allow you to access all e-mail communications, but be sure this is outlined in the employee handbook. For any documentation you use, take every precaution that it was obtained legally before proceeding with your case.

When you are ready to sit down with the employee to fire him or her, use proper procedure and decorum to minimize hostile situations, and always have at least two other people present to be witnesses. Be direct from the start that he is being fired. Present your documentation, and do not give in to excuses or appeals; after giving plenty of warnings, you have made up your mind to fire the employee, so follow through. Have the final paycheck ready so this can be your last interaction. Finally, explain the severance package and have an agreement ready for him to sign.

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