How to Fire Someone Without Getting Fired Up

August 29, 2017
How to Fire Someone Without Getting Fired Up

As a business leader, you will eventually be faced with the unfortunate task of firing an employee. While an involuntary termination sometimes comes about because of a business decision and not due to an employee’s actions, this post will focus on terminations due to unsatisfactory performance or poor conduct.

No matter how an employment relationship ends, we recommend that you follow the best practices advice in our post on letting an employee go, including consulting your HR services provider. Then, when it comes time to have that dreaded conversation, here are some sanity-saving tips for approaching your employee with the news, without losing your cool.

Have a plan of action

Before you call your employee into a meeting to let them go, have in your mind the agenda of what you absolutely need to accomplish and the order it has to happen. This should include:

  • Informing the employee that they’re being terminated.
  • Allowing an appropriate amount of time for the news to sink in.
  • A brief, high-level summary of the reason(s) behind your decision. This can include something such as a company policy that they violated for which the consequence is immediate termination or a failure to improve already-documented performance issues.
  • Presenting the employee with their final paycheck, information on applying for COBRA and any other important items concerning their compensation and/or benefits.
  • Presenting them with any other paperwork and collecting any signatures as required by the laws of your state, jurisdiction and/or industry, such as required notices and unemployment benefits documents.
  • Collecting any company-owned items, such as their badge, mobile phone or laptop.
  • Informing them of immediate next steps to wrap up their employment, such as collecting any documents they’ve been working on, gathering their belongings and leaving the building.

Use the buddy system

It may make sense to have certain key people in your termination meeting, including the business owner, legal representative and/or an HR professional. You never want an unnecessary amount of people when you deal with a sensitive personnel issue. However, it is always advisable to have a carefully selected third colleague in the room who was not involved with the termination decision. This person should be charged with taking notes on the meeting.

Having this third-party corroboration (and their notes) can be vital when it comes to dealing with the unemployment office and in defending yourself and your business should a compliance or legal issue arise during—or as a result of—the meeting.

Remember that timing is everything

The timing of the termination discussion can make a big difference for you and the employee. You know your business and when most people are in common areas, on the phones, out with clients or wrapping up their day. If possible, avoid conducting a termination during a high-traffic time in the office. Stress levels can rise if an employee fears the judgment of others.

In addition, if you need to wait until the end of the day, ensure the timing of the meeting makes sense with the employee’s normal routine. Tipping off an employee that they are about to be terminated can lead to unintended negative consequences such as bad-mouthing the company in a broadcast email or theft of sensitive information.

Keep it short and to the point

It’s easier on everyone if you don’t beat around the bush when delivering the news. Invite your employee to take a seat and then immediately let them know you have made the decision to let them go. Pick your words carefully and keep the conversation on point. The duration of a termination meeting should be long enough to conduct the termination--no more and no less.

Treat them with dignity

You’ll feel better about the process if you offer the terminated employee kindness wherever you can. Some ways to do this include:

  • Prepare for them to get emotional. Have tissues on-hand and be ready to give them space to compose themselves should they need it.
  • Choose as private and inconspicuous a location as possible to break the news. An office with a door and walls works better than a conference room with floor to ceiling windows. Make sure they don’t have to walk past a busy area full of onlooking colleagues afterward.
  • To the extent possible, give them the needed time and privacy to collect their personal belongings or offer to have these items sent to their home.
  • If the nature of your business requires them to be escorted back to their desk to collect their belongings and/or out of the building, try to do so in as natural a way as possible or after colleagues have left for the day so as not to make the employee even more uncomfortable than they already will be.

Don’t get personal

As hard as it is in a situation like this, put your personal feelings aside. Two good ways to keep your own emotions in check during this process are:

  • Do not apologize. Apologies send a mixed message. Be confident in the soundness of your decision.
  • Don’t debate. The newly terminated employee may try to protest your decision. As long as you are terminating with cause and have proper documentation to justify your decision, there is nothing to debate. Allow them to vent within reason but also continue to move the conversation through your pre-planned agenda. 

Letting an employee go is never easy but should you find yourself in this situation, a TriNet HR professional can help you reduce the pain and the risk.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance. 

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