Your First Time Firing an Employee

You’ve tried to make it work but this just isn’t working out. Firing an employee can be difficult, especially when it’s your first time. The key is to focus on job performance while bringing the relationship to a respectful close. Sound impossible? Not if you have a plan first. Here are some tips to help you get through your first (or fifth) firing.

Don’t Yell “Surprise”

Unless you are firing someone for illegal activities or are downsizing, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the employee. Termination is the end of a long process aimed at trying to improve an employee’s work performance.

It starts with giving the employee feedback on their work and communicating your expectations. That includes a specific date by which you expect to see measurable improvement. When that day comes, the action you take is the direct result of whether the employee has met the goals.

At all stages of the process, it’s important to document the performance issues you observed, when you communicated them and what actions you took.

Know the Rules First

The Small Business Administration (SBA) website outlines some legal considerations surrounding employee terminations. These include:

  • At-Will policy – Every state (except Montana) gives employers the ability to terminate an employee. It can be at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. However, some employee contracts can provide otherwise. So check to be sure.
  • Illegal firing – You cannot fire someone based on his or her age, race, gender, religion, or disability. That also includes sexual orientation, in some areas. That prohibition also includes whistle-blowers or employees taking family, medical or military leave.

Prep for the Meeting

Do your homework before you meet with an employee. You want to clearly communicate the facts. Review any supporting documentation including attendance, on-time completion of work, or quality measures.

Prepare for questions an employee might have. Besides the actual date of termination, that might include areas like:

  • Compensation – The SBA provides guidance on the issues of last paycheck and severance pay. Also think about how you will handle any unused vacation or sick time. You will also want to explain any vesting they have in a retirement plan. And, you are required to notify them that they may be eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • Continuation of health insurance – In some cases, employees may have the option of continuing any group coverage by enrolling in COBRA or state plans. Work with your health plan administrator to facilitate the process.

Carefully prepare the timing for when the employee will no longer have access to company resources. You don’t want their login or employee ID badge to fail before you have a chance to meet with them.

Delivering the Message

It’s not easy to give bad news to an employee. You want to be direct yet preserve their dignity. So choose a private location. There is a debate about whether you should do this at the beginning or end of the workday. The key is to choose the least disruptive time.

Start by telling them you are terminating their employment. Use your documentation to provide any supporting detail. Generally, you will want the employee to leave after you meet. Offer the option to collect their things later at a time when others are not around. Or you can send them later.

Be prepared to listen to the employee and respectfully answer any questions. Give them a resource to answer questions after they leave. Remember, the objective is not to depart as “friends” but to respectfully provide clear information and listen empathetically.

Remember the Survivors

It’s not just the fired employee who is affected. So are your other employees. Tell them when an individual is no longer employed. In your communication, thank the former employee for their contribution, if appropriate, and wish them well. It is not necessary to share the reason for the termination. You will also want to explain how the terminated employee’s workload will be handled.

Even though it’s in your business’ best interest, it’s not easy to let an employee go. But these tips can help make the process go smoother, even if it’s your first time firing an employee.

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