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So, you’re the boss. Of course the job title comes with its perks, but you’re also the person tasked with one of the most dreaded responsibilities of all time—firing people. Just remember, you’re not alone. Every company will have to terminate an employee at some point in time. But, is there a right and wrong way of conducting a termination?
Anyone who has ever had to fire an employee will tell you that every circumstance is different. By following a proper protocol, you are able to soften the blow for you, your employee, and you are also taking a step in protecting your company from a potential lawsuit that may arise from the termination.
It’s rarely a pleasant experience, but here are some tips to help ease the pain.
Tip 1: Establish a firing protocol
If you don’t already have a comprehensive firing protocol in place, create one now. There are many moving parts, but you can start by making sure there are job descriptions, an employee handbook, and employment contracts in place. Progressive discipline plans should be followed so that employees aren’t blindsided when they get the axe. This is also a great way to keep everyone on the same page. Termination should never come as a surprise to anyone. If you have done your due diligence as the employer when it comes to training and supporting underperformers, then you are doing your job right and this last step won’t be shocking.
Tip 2: Come prepared
Review and compile all the necessary documents prior to the termination meeting. These documents should be ready and present for the employee to review and sign as needed. Make the paperwork easy to understand so that your newly fired employee comprehends what you have put out in front of them.
Tip 3: Bring a witness
It’s always a good idea to have two people present—one to do the firing and one to observe and document. Understandably an employee could become disgruntled since emotions run high during this type of meeting. Should false accusations be made of your behavior or actions, you will have a witness to back you up.
Tip 4: Make it quick
The meeting should be short and to the point—10 to 15 minutes, max. Holding it in a private conference room is preferred and if possible, one that is out of the way of high traffic areas and saves the employee the embarrassment of being escorted out of the office. Don’t let you your nerves get in the way. The employee needs to be informed instantly why they were called into the meeting—don’t make small talk or dance around the topic. And, since you have taken all the necessary steps and documented everything (see step 1), this meeting shouldn’t come as a shock to the employee.
Tip 5: Be respectful
Treating your employee with respect is the key to managing the uncomfortable situation. How would you want to be treated should the roles be reversed? Thinking about it from this perspective may help guide your own actions. Decide what tone you will carry prior to your meeting. A good approach is to be calm and collected but assertive while you speak.
Tip 6: Remain in control
Remember the purpose of the meeting. Terminating an employee can easily become counterproductive if you lose control and come across as wishy washy. You can let the employee vent but they must remember that the decision isn’t up for debate. Don’t second guess yourself and refrain from using terminology that will confuse the employee (e.g., we think you will do great somewhere else, we hate to see you go). Be straightforward and honest with the employee so that you don’t make a bad situation worse.
Tip 7: Have a plan in place for after the "talk"
Decide how you will handle the situation once the meeting has ended. Do you have to escort the employee out or does someone else do that job? How will you get their personal belongings to them? Do they have badges or other forms of ID for entering buildings or logging onto systems that need to be disconnected? These are just some of the questions to think about BEFORE the meeting.
Tip 8: Inform the rest of your team
Your termination meeting has ended, the employee has left the building, and you can now relax because it is all over, right? Wrong.
Now, you must inform the rest of your team. Termination of an employee affects everyone in the workplace—you, the employee, and those around you. Whether you decide to let your team know as a group or individually, it should be quick, to the point, and out of respect to the fired employee, you should spare your team the details. Reassign jobs and responsibilities as needed. You may also wonder how this news will affect the team morale. Your team should be aware that there is a progressive plan that needs to be followed, and if they underperform and are unable to meet the necessary requirements, there are consequences. Chances are that they will respect your decision as long as you continue to operate in a fair manner with everyone.
A company can’t continue to be successful if the difficult topic of termination is never brought up. You set high standards for a reason. If the employee is unable to meet those standards after proper training, then they ultimately have decided their own fate, and you are just doing what any effective leader should do. A great way to ensure that you have all your ducks in a row is by working with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO). This will allow you to focus more time on your core business and less on the human resources details while still having everything you need (e.g., employee handbook, termination forms, employee warnings) in place.
Karen McGee, Sr. HR Generalist, joined SWBC PEO in 2014 bringing with her a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Wayland Baptist. Karen comes to SWBC PEO with over 25 years of human resources management experience. Prior to joining SWBC PEO, Karen worked as a Human Resources Business Partner for a large utility company in San Antonio.