How to Fire an Employee

7 Do's and Don'ts

So… you’ve finally decided to let one of your employees go. Drafting the paperwork and corresponding with HR is the easy part, but knowing how to fire an employee is where things get complicated. In fact, it is one of the most challenging conversations to have in the workplace. However, it must be done, and it must be done with poise and tact. Not only should you keep your state law in mind, but you should also consider your former employee’s wellbeing.

How to Fire an Employee the Right Way

12 Reasons to Fire an Employee

There are plenty of reasons you may be contemplating letting an employee go. But here are some of the most common reasons.

  • Poor job performance
  • Excessive absence
  • Sexual harassment
  • Property damage, theft, or misuse
  • Conflict of interest
  • Unethical behavior
  • Violence, harassment, or discrimination
  • Breaking client confidentiality
  • Falsifying company documents
  • Violation of company protocols, procedures, and rules
  • Misleading job applications
  • Your company is downsizing

No matter the reason you are firing employees, it is essential that you do it in a way that doesn’t burn bridges or reflect poorly on your company culture. So, here are some do’s and don’t on how to fire an employee the right way.

7 Do’s and Don’ts

Sometimes crossing your fingers and hoping things get better is not an option. Before you decide to fire your employee, you should sit down and have an open, honest conversation about their performance. This conversation allows you to express your concerns and determine ways to improve their performance. Of course, you don’t want to go through the hiring process all over again, so the best possible result is that the employee improves and becomes productive. Worst-case scenario – they quit, or you have to fire them.

Don’t ever fire an employee without a warning. This is just bad for your company’s reputation. Additionally, it affects recruitment and workplace morale. The only reason this would be acceptable is if the employee commits an outrageous act (especially if it’s against company policy). In that case, they should know that termination is on the horizon. Otherwise common ways to warn employees are by giving performance improvement plans, implementing retraining, or by simply writing a warning notice.

Where and when you fire an employee matters. Ideal conditions are somewhere where it’s private. Respecting their privacy and giving them a space to react to the news is vital. Also, think about the day of the week that is best. Experts believe Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days of the week to fire employees. Wednesdays and Thursdays fall right in the middle of the week. This allows your employee to get a few extra work hours and gives them a business day or two to begin working on their termination.

Just like you wouldn’t break up with your girlfriend or boyfriend over the phone, you should never fire an employee over the phone. Never use emails, phone calls, or letters for terminations. Again, this is just bad for your company’s reputation and employee morale. Instead, have a face-to-face meeting using some of the tips on the left.

The goal is to fire the employee without stripping them of their dignity. The best way to do this is to stick to the facts. If it’s not positive or constructive feedback, you probably don’t need to bring it into the meeting. Create a plan to help eliminate opinionated dialogue. You don’t need to script everything you say, but you should have notes and documentation to ensure you make your points and get straight to the point.

Truthfully, a termination meeting should last no longer than 15 minutes. You should be able to get your point across in that amount of time. The more you ramble, the more likely you are to say something offensive or cruel, especially if this is someone you are frustrated with. The only reason a meeting should last longer is if your former employee has questions.

Because termination meetings are so short, you wouldn’t really need to bring out specifics unless the employee begins asking questions. Don’t answer these questions based on pure speculation or opinion, as that could create space for a lawsuit. Instead, prepare beforehand and anticipate what questions may be asked. Have documentation and facts ready to present.

Despite warnings, employees may still be shocked that they are being fired. As a result, they may not believe they are actually being fired. There will be instances where employees will try to talk or argue their way back to their desk. Make it clear from the beginning that that is not an option. State that this is something you have contemplated for a while, and you have finally made an adamant decision. Here, you’ll need to balance being confident and firm without being condescending.

As a US employer, you risk facing employee termination lawsuits. So, you want to document as much of the journey as possible. This includes having a witness present. The best witness is often an HR representative. HR is trained to keep conversations, such as these, focused and on track. They also ensure that the employee is treated with dignity.

If you don’t have any HR person who can act as a witness, don’t think it’s okay to fire an employee on your own. Getting fired brings forth tons of different emotions. You never know how someone else will react and if their reaction could cause you to say or do something out of character. The extra person could be another manager or someone in the company that you trust.

First things first, don’t make your former employee pack their office in front of their coworkers unless they want to. Offer after-work hours, and always have someone with them while packing their office. Whoever is assigned should escort them out of the office to ensure they don’t cause a scene or spend extra unsupervised time in the workplace. This person should also be responsible for collecting any company property, ID badges, keys, etc.

Be diligent about what information or property the employee takes with them. As mentioned, the escort should collect any important company property the employee has. You should also make sure you retrieve company data and information. If your employee had special access to private information via passwords and usernames, you should terminate those accounts or change the passwords immediately.

Questions at the end of a termination meeting range from why? to well… what about my severance package? So, it is essential to leave space for questions and be prepared to answer them. It won’t change how the employee feels about being fired, but it at least gives them certainty and space to express themselves, which they will appreciate in the long run.

The last thing you want to do is end the meeting with high tensions. Angry former employees can leave bad employer reviews and cause dissent between you and your current workforce. Let them get everything off their chest and aim to be as supportive as possible. You can’t ALWAYS control how an employee handles termination, but you can do your best to create an open, transparent environment.

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