How Should I Handle Firing an Employee?

Firing an employee is never easy. Even for the most egregious offenses, most of us do not relish confrontation. As uncomfortable as you may be, it is important to remember that the person being fired has it much harder. There are proper measures you can take to be tactful, concise and within the parameters of the law.

Firing an employee without cause can land you in a sticky wrongful termination suit. Before you call in the employee in question, build your case with evidence that justifies the firing, not just because they were smoking at work when there is a smoking ban. Repeated absenteeism can be demonstrated with time cards, for instance, and charges of embezzlement are bolstered with account statements. Unless the person has committed a crime, termination should be the last resort after other reprimands.

Spelling out the grounds for termination in the employee handbook can reduce the surprise factor that leads some disgruntled former employees to file suit. Performance reviews can also head off potentially explosive situations. No employee should be blind-sided by termination after a series of sub-par reviews. The onus is on the employer to make very clear, definitive statements in the reviews. Wishy-washy notes could strengthen a wrongful termination suit.

The Firing Process

Having a termination procedure for managers and human resources can be a helpful resource. When you fire by-the-book, you can be sure there are no loose ends. A script is not necessary--the employee deserves an explanation of the exact reasons he is being fired--but a list of key points can help you focus and avoid fodder for future litigation.

Always have two other people present when you confront the employee. A human resources official, a security officer and another manager are options. In some cases, a person being fired can become belligerent, hostile or even violent. You need someone to not only protect you and the employee from harm, but also two witnesses to the conversation who could testify in a lawsuit as to the actual firing.

When the time comes to invite the employee into your office, turn off your cell phone and computer screen. That person deserves your full attention without interruptions or distractions. Get right to the point. After performance reviews and prior warnings, the person probably knows what's coming. Don't mince words, avoid the small talk and get down to business.

Start by stating clearly that the person is being fired, and explain why. Provide copies of relevant documentation and past reviews so there is no disputing your case. Once you have resolved to let the person go, do not back down. Except in cases of widespread layoffs of dedicated workers, do not indicate that the company has failed the employee. It is the employee who has fallen down on his duties, so express that the company was not a right fit, and express hope for his future success.

If applicable, discuss a severance package. A copy of company policy and actual figures can help explain this to the employee. Most companies only offer severance pay if the employee signs a statement agreeing not to sue for wrongful termination. This is a wise precaution for any company, so have your attorney draft this agreement before your meeting. It is also helpful to have the final paycheck ready on the spot so the employee can cut ties immediately.

Following the termination, it is generally a good policy to have the person leave the premises immediately. Theft, vandalism and even violence can occur in the heat of the moment, so have security nearby to protect other employees. Change passwords immediately and re-key locks promptly. Firing an employee is never easy, but these precautions can streamline the process.

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