How To Fire an Employee (and Do It Right)

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Nobody enjoys the firing process. However, it’s a job that has to be done sometimes. It’s a bad idea to try and put off the moment too; leaving somebody who is unproductive or worse actively destructive to fester within the workforce can lead to further problems down the line.

However before you steady your guns and take aim; it’s important that you fire somebody in the right way. If you get it wrong – you might end up in a courtroom defending a lawsuit which is an expensive and time consuming business. So tackling firing in a professional and legally complain manner is essential and here’s how you go about it:

It’s All About the Documentation

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Donald Trump may have been able to say; “You’re fired.” But you can’t. If you want to dismiss somebody in real life, rather than in reality TV, you need to prepare the way for that dismissal. An employer that just walks up to someone and terminates their employment on the spot is begging to end up in court.

Documentation is what makes the difference when it comes to proving that you have followed a process. In most cases, excluding acts of gross misconduct, termination is normally carried out because of performance issues. That means you should have spoken to the employee many times prior to the termination to try and address those issues. Each time you have a performance discussion it should be written up and the employee should sign for it. You should talk to your lawyer to make sure that such documentation meets the required legal standards for your local legal environment.

It is the regular discussions backed with the right paperwork that prepares the ground for an employee. If they know, because their manager has told them on many occasions, that there is a problem and that they have been asked to address the problem and they haven’t done so – they’ll know that sooner or later; they’re going to be fired.

Dismissal in these incidences is often more of a relief for the employee than something that makes them angry or upset. However, if you just fire somebody without the buildup; you can quite rightly imagine that they’re going to be very unhappy indeed.

It’s Also About Documentation for Redundancy

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When times are tough; it’s perfectly reasonable for an employer to reduce the number of people on payroll. However, you need to make sure that you can demonstrate a fair process for selecting people for redundancy.

If the matter should go to court; they’ll want to know why you selected person A for redundancy and not person B. If you can show that you had a scoring criteria (of business relevant criteria) in place and that people lost their jobs based on those criteria and not because of some arbitrary reason provided in the management meeting – you are going to be on much safer ground when defending that redundancy.

As with performance based dismissal – it’s a good idea to get a lawyer to go through your criteria and documentation before you take action on making people redundant. A lawyer should be able to keep you from making mistakes that end up being costly in court.

5 Things to Know Before Holding a Dismissal Meeting

A basic check to ensure that you’re covered prior to terminating someone’s employment is that you understand the following:

  • The reason for termination of the employee and that you have the proper documentation to proceed.
  • The employee’s history with your business (this should include their personal details, whether they are a member of a protected class, whether they’re in a union, how long they’ve been with you, any previous history of disciplinary action, any complaints that the employee currently has against management or the business, etc.)
  • That your action is consistent with the way you treat all other employees. (This can help ensure that the termination is not an act of spite or vengeance from a manager or a momentary over-reaction)
  • That terminating the employee is in the best interests of the business – e.g. you have a business based reason to finish their employment
  • That you have followed, to the letter, your own policies for discipline as well as any legal advice you have been given regarding the termination

How to Handle the Termination Meeting

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This is, for most managers and leaders, the hardest part of the process. There’s no denying that terminating someone’s contract isn’t just stressful the person who is let go – it’s stressful for the person doing the letting go.

The best way to handle this is to be prepared. Know that some employees will be distressed – have tissues and water within easy reach so that they may process the news. Stick to the script, explain the reason for the termination and walk them through the events leading up to it. Be prepared to answer questions but don’t start to wax lyrical on what could have been – keep things brief and to the point. The more you say in a termination meeting; the more likely it is you will give the employee cause for grievance with you and the company.

Ideally, if this is your first time – role-play the scenario with another manager before you get into the room – it’s much easier to handle curve balls if you can see them coming.

Try to keep the meeting to no more than 10 minutes. Ensure that you have their desk cleared and personal items brought to the meeting room by another party; then ensure that the terminated employee is escorted (respectfully and with dignity) from the building following the meeting.

Wrapping Things Up

Once the termination has taken place; you should immediately ensure that company property is returned and any access to company systems is revoked.

You also want to make sure that your paperwork is all in order; this includes not just paperwork relating to the termination but also pay, benefits, NDAs, etc. too.

If you have a severance package available to the employee, in the case of redundancy, try to ensure that the employee can discuss this immediately after the meeting with an HR representative. Get the paperwork done for this.

Finally, always make sure that you offer a company contact so that if the employee needs to discuss something – they can without disrupting the rest of the business.