Being a manager can surely have its perks, I, for one, loved being a manager at a Chinese restaurant. Not only did it keep me on my feet, it was also nice being in charge of everything and making sure that things ran smoothly on a day-to-day basis. However, there are also always going to be a few disadvantages to being the one in charge, take for instance the unpleasant task of having to fire an employee who just isn’t cutting it.
While firing an employee is never easy, there are a few things you can do to help soften the blow and make the entire process easier for all parties involved.
When it comes to firing somebody, the following tips will help you go about it the right way. Get it wrong, and you could be in for more than you bargained for and have a disgruntled ex-employee on your hands, or even worse, a lawsuit.
1.) Firing Is a Process/Avoid Element of Surprise
The first and most important thing to know when it comes to firing somebody is that it should never be a surprise or completely out of the blue. Rather, a firing should always be the last step in a bigger review process. There are two key elements in this process: First, warn the employee that their performance is not quite up to par and that if they don’t pick up the slack they could risk termination. Try to include tips for how they can improve their performance and give them every chance to succeed in doing so. Next, if they fail to improve, you should let them go. Giving the employee about 3 or 4 weeks to improve their performance is a good time frame to keep in mind during this process.
2.) Keep a Paper Trail
If and when it comes time to terminate an employee who just isn’t meeting company standards, it is important to be able to present specific data and/or a paper trail to back up your decision. This is not only a good way to ensure that the employee was given the proper warning, chance, and tips for improving performance, but also a good way to cover your own butt in case things turn ugly later on and your decision to terminate ever comes into question. You should always accompany your original warnings with realistic goals that can actually be attained. (i.e. increasing sales by x percent, or showing up to work on time everyday instead of late, etc.) If the employee is unable to meet these goals then there should be no surprise or question when it comes time to let them go; no one can argue with a signed contract to improve work performance listing goals that were not achieved, or with hard numbers.
Taking the proper measures to protect yourself against legal action is crucial in avoiding a sticky situation later. If you’re not doing so already, be sure to implement clauses in your employment contracts that give you ownership of company data, so you will not have to battle it out with a terminated employee for any important company information they may have. In addition, always record any “warning conversations” or performance reviews so that you have hard evidence supporting your reasons for letting them go. Drafting a document and summarizing each conversation and having an employee sign and date it is a good step to take in protecting yourself against a lawsuit. Having a witness present during this step is also important because they can account for your actions and prevent or testify against an angry employee who might try to falsely accuse you of wrongful behavior.
3.) Fire on a Monday
If possible, never fire an employee on a Friday. The last thing you want is for them to go home and stew about it all weekend. Monday is best when it comes to terminating an employee. You want to quickly transition the person from working for you to being able to look for another job, which is usually done during the week.
4.) Do It in Private but Always Have a Witness Present
It is never a good idea to fire somebody in a public place. While it might seem like a good idea to take someone out to lunch to try and soften the blow, in hindsight it could actually make things a lot worse. You should also try to avoid firing someone in front of other employees as this can be embarrassing or seem demeaning. A neutral, private place with a door is best. This way you can hold the meeting in private but leave once the conversation is over. It is also important to have a witness present in case the employee threatens retaliation or reacts inappropriately. While this conversation is taking place it might also be a good idea to have someone change any passwords or cancel access to any company programs or information that the former employee might have had access to, just to be on the safe side.
5.) Be Brief and Clear but Don’t Mislead
When firing somebody it is important to be brief, clear, and straight to the point. However you don’t want to come off as a total jerk either. Be compassionate and emphasize the importance of protecting the employee’s dignity but don’t sugarcoat things or be misleading. Most lawsuits related to termination arise from a company not being empathetic or treating their former employee with respect and dignity. Never come up with a “cover up” story for why you are firing somebody. Be honest. This can sometimes be a difficult thing to do because you never want to hurt an employee’s feelings, but at the same time being direct and honest about an employee’s lack of performance of failure to live up to specific company standards is crucial during the termination process. Setting tangible goals and being direct with employees before the termination process is key to handling the situation properly and professionally and avoiding any hurt feelings. Keeping the meeting short and sweet and not letting things turn into a further discussion or an argument are also important tips to keep in mind. Stress the fact that conversations about performance have been had and nothing has improved, and these are the consequences. If the employee refuses to accept this, keep emphasizing that the decision has already been made and is irreversible.
6.) Lay It All Out
Once the conversation about termination is over, you should brief the former employee on any important information and/or options they have now, related to their termination. Be sure to fill them in on any details involving insurance benefits, 401K, unemployment options, final paycheck, and/or severance packages if eligible/applicable. You want to make sure that they have the information and/or resources they need to move on. Some companies also offer career counseling for employees who are let go. If your company offers this sort of thing, now is the time to let them know about it. After having this conversation, let the employee leave immediately and schedule a time for them to come back and collect their things. This will give them a chance to cool down, help avoid any angry reactions, or forms of retaliation, and will also help give them a scheduled/supervised time to collect their things and have relative privacy when doing so.