Firing employees can be an intensely unpleasant situation for all concerned, but if done properly, it can be managed with the least amount of conflict.
When Firing Employees is Unavoidable
When a situation can't be solved with retraining, it's best to handle firing employees immediately. The longer you keep a difficult or non-performing worker on board, the more you adversely affect the rest of employee morale.
Always prepare your case for firing employees with written, dated documentation, including the employee's signature to show he/she received and understood the warnings. Let the worker know in what area(s) he/she is not performing sufficiently and offer retraining. If the employee still fails to meet minimum standards after retraining efforts, it's time to terminate employment. Theft is grounds for immediately firing employees but be sure you have sound evidence and, hopefully, a couple of eye witnesses.
If your company has a human resources department, it is a good idea to get them involved in the firing process. Not only can human resources provide you with assistance in the process, they can advise you on legal aspects of dismissing an employee.
Actually Firing Employees
The actual moment for firing an employee should be handled very carefully. Be sure to:
- Only alert direct supervisors that the employee is about to be fired and have them join you in the office with the employee for privacy.
- Be the ultimate professional. Stick to the facts, review the employee's performance review, going over the areas that were lacking, and the failure to improve performance.
- Keep your cool, and maintain a proper dialogue and language, even if the person being fired doesn't. Be firm but fair and avoid belittling the person being fired. Getting fired is an emotionally charged situation for anyone and maintaining your professional distance and language without showing negative emotion may help the employee being fired to accept the situation better than they might. Also, by not engaging the employee in an argument, you may still reduce your chances of a lawsuit.
- When possible, dismiss an employee at the end of the day. This reduces the impact on fellow employees.
- If the employee has access to classified information or you are concerned he may remove company property, have someone accompany him to his locker or desk to remove his belongings before he is escorted from the building.
- Immediately have the employees access to computer, secured areas, etc. removed.
In most cases, it is best if the employee leaves immediately after the firing. If someone isn't performing well enough to be retained, they shouldn't be retained a moment longer. Allow the former worker a few moments to collect any personal items, wish them well in future ventures and see them out the door.
Should you provide severance pay when firing employees? It may actually help keep you from becoming involved in a wrongful termination suit. The average severance in the service industry is two weeks pay. However, the length of time the person being fired was employed and the position held with the company should be taken into consideration. If benefits such as sick days and vacation time have been accrued, it's a good idea to include this pay in the severance check as well.
Consult with human resources or your local employment laws about the necessity of giving the employee his final paycheck at the time of his dismissal.
The Employee Release Document
When you offer severance pay to a terminated employee, you should make his/her signature is on a release document as a condition for receiving the pay. A well-written release document provides you with a consistent termination policy, showing that you treat all terminated employees essentially the same, without individual retribution.
The release document should also state that by signing, the employee waives the right to file a lawsuit against the employer. The fired employee should be given a minimum of twenty-four hours to consider the document before making the decision to sign, but in many states, employees over age 40 must be given twenty-one days to review a release document. This is another layer of protection against a wrongful termination lawsuit down the road.
By all means, invest in having your release document written up by an attorney who is well-versed in the laws of your particular state. This is one area where it doesn't pay to cut costs. If the employee does eventually file a suit, the release document and your written performance documentations will help you present your case.
Don't be surprised if you receive future phone calls from potential employers of the person you fired, it happens all the time. Just know that what you say to another prospective employer can come back to haunt you. It is best to limit the information you give out to the date the employment began and ended, the employee's official title, and confirm the rate of pay the fired employee received. Do not engage in a discussion of the employee's performance; simply state that it is company policy only to provide the limited inforomation on past employees. This is yet another way to limit your chances of a wrongful termination or discrimination suit.
No one enjoys firing an employee; however, you are not doing yourself, the company, or the employee in question any favors by leaving him in a position where he is destined to fail or to cause your company harm. Be direct, be professional, and remember that the employee's dismissal is the result of his own actions.