How to Fire an Employee: 10 Dos and Don’ts

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How to Fire an Employee: 10 Dos and Don’ts

Firing someone is a lot easier said than done. Although it’s something every manager will have to face at one point or another, letting someone go is an odious task that both employer and employee dread. It’s also a decision that many managers lose a lot of sleep over. But, as hard as that undertaking is, it’s important to follow the proper process for how to fire an employee.

You need to have everything in order before actually dismissing the employee. If it’s done hastily, without taking the necessary steps, it can lead to a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

In fact, legal issues may even arise that could do a lot of damage to your business.

Human resources professionals and experts across different industries may offer different ways of terminating an employee gracefully, but there are some tips that help you deal with the inevitable, regardless of the business you’re in.

Read on to discover the 10 do’s and don’ts for firing an employee.

1. Do: Get everything in order beforehand
2. Do: Choose the proper time and place
3. Don’t: Fire employees without a witness
4. Do: Keep it short and to the point
5. Don’t: Humiliate the employee
6. Do: Avoid the element of surprise
7. Don’t: Give the employee false hope
8. Do: Have someone escort the employee out
9. Do: Consider providing a reference letter
10. Don’t: End the termination meeting on a low note

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1. Do: Get everything in order beforehand

When planning an employee dismissal, the first and most important thing to do is to get everything in order before you actually let them go.

Preparation is key if you want everything to go smoothly. So, before terminating the employee, here are some things you can do to prevent any misunderstandings or even accusations of illegality.

  • Carefully follow your organization’s termination policy and procedures on how to fire an employee – particularly concerning severance or notice arrangements.
  • Consult an employment lawyer if you think the termination may trigger a lawsuit.
  • Secure all computer files on your site, backup company information, or records the employee is in charge of (in case they don’t take things as well).
  • Make a list of all the company belongings that the employee needs to return upon dismissal, such as laptops, ID badges, sales tools, etc.
  • Pull together the employee’s performance appraisals and written warnings, as well as any other pertinent correspondence. Go through it before the meeting.

Finally, prepare a termination document outlining the terms and conditions of the employee’s dismissal.

Include information such as the last day of employment, benefits, final pay, etc.

The employee must sign this document, and you can give them a copy. Keep another one in the personnel file.

2. Do: Choose the proper time and place

Dismissing an employee isn’t a simple matter of just sending them an email. First, you need to choose the right date, time, and place where the dismissal will take place.

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It’s always best to do it earlier in the week and preferably at the end of the day to minimize business impact.

Also, make sure you’re aware of the employee’s transportation situation. For instance, if they depend on the company carpool to get home after work, don’t fire them in the morning.

Here are a few other tips to help you pick the right time and place:

Don’t dismiss an employee in front of an audience.

Every individual has a right to privacy. Letting an employee go in private gives them the opportunity to process everything before their colleagues find out, so make sure you avoid public places.

A conference room is a good place to hold the meeting. It’s a private, neutral location that is free from disruptions.

Don’t fire the employee on a Friday (or before a holiday).

Getting fired can be extremely traumatic for most people. Some may require emotional help, advisory services, or counseling – none of which may be available over the weekend or on holidays.

Also, by letting them go earlier during the week, you allow them to get a jumpstart on searching for another job.

Don’t terminate an employee on parental or medical leave.

There are regulations that protect employees on leave. That’s why you should avoid firing an employee who is away or has just returned from leave. In such a case, you must wait until the proper time to go through with the dismissal.

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3. Don’t: Fire employees without a witness

Never start the conversation without a witness if you want to avoid legal issues down the road.

It’s always best to have a second employee sit in on the meeting with you when dismissing someone.

Often, this is someone from human resources who already has experience in employment termination. Prior to the meeting, brief the individual or provide them with the written reports to ensure they understand the situation.

In addition to having another individual who hears everything that is said in the employment termination, this also has the benefit of assisting an inexperienced manager since the HR person can help keep the discussion on track and move it toward completion.

Furthermore, the HR person will ensure that the employee is treated fairly and with professionalism. It helps limit your organization’s liability when firing an employee.

If you don’t have an HR department, any other employee can serve as a witness. They will also be able to assist if you find yourself in a situation where the terminated employee refuses to sign and acknowledge documents.

In such a case, the witness can sign the documents instead. Besides having a witness with you at the meeting, it’s also a good idea to make sure you have security close by. Dismissals can be traumatic, and emotions often run very high.

Pro Tip: Take notes during the meeting or record the meeting in some way. Just make sure to tell the employee upfront.

4. Do: Keep it short and to the point

Letting an employee go should never turn into a long, drawn-out discussion, especially if you have documented that employee’s performance, coached, and provided frequent feedback over time.

The records will speak for themselves.

Besides, rehashing your dissatisfaction in them is cruel, and it accomplishes nothing.

Benchmark reports show that most employees will ask you why they are being dismissed (even those who have received multiple warnings).

Have a direct and straightforward answer prepared. Be honest, summarize the situation correctly, but leave out the details.

Make sure you don’t place blame on the employee. Your goal is to terminate the employee while allowing them to maintain their dignity.

Don’t get defensive or start debating the merits of the termination decision with the employee.

However, you can allow them to react and ask questions.

Typical questions include:

  • Am I going to be paid for unused PTO time?
  • When can I get my last paycheck?
  • Can I continue my health insurance?
  • Will I be eligible for unemployment insurance?

Be sympathetic and understanding in answering their questions. However, make sure you reinforce that your decision to fire them is final.

5. Don’t: Humiliate the employee

One of the most important things to do when firing an employee is to avoid humiliating them. As previously stated, you want the employee to hold on to their dignity during the termination process, so you must handle the actual firing session with care.

Also, the way you treat the employee could be the main determining factor in whether they feel wronged and decide to file a lawsuit (whether or not it has merit).

So, always show the employee respect. Part of showing respect is giving them the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting at the proper time and place.

Never fire an employee over electronic means, such as over a Zoom call, in an email, IM, text, or phone call.

Even a written letter is inappropriate when terminating someone’s employment.

Remember, the rest of your employees have long memories. For the sake of maintaining their morale and trust in you, make sure you handle dismissals well.

Also, this age is dominated by social media, which means dismissals will likely not remain a private matter. For this reason, you want to avoid creating scenarios that will damage the way your business looks to your prospects and customers.

So remember these tips for how to fire an employee:

  • Don’t fire employees over electronic means
  • Be honest and straightforward during the meeting
  • Don’t get personal or create a scene
  • Be respectful and discreet
  • Don’t compare the employee to someone else

6. Do: Avoid the element of surprise

Getting fired should never come as a surprise to the employee. Don’t act without warning. Make sure they know about the dismissal in advance, so they don’t feel blindsided, which often leads to anger.

So, this means you should never fire an employee on the spot. Instead, unless they have committed an immediate, egregious act, provide the employee with coaching, as well as performance feedback over a period of time.

Document every step of the improvement process (or lack thereof). If you’ve offered proper training, and there’s still no improvement, then you as the employer can take the decision to fire the person.

Besides, firing someone on the spot can have some unintended consequences, such as inadvertently letting go of someone who is in the middle of managing a project.

Avoiding the element of surprise also helps employers protect their own interests should the employee’s termination result in a lawsuit.

7. Don’t: Give the employee false hope

Many employees never believe that they will get fired in the first place.

Regardless of how poorly they’re performing, they never believe that they deserve to be terminated. That’s why they may hold on to the notion that there is a way to affect your decision.

It’s important to not let them think that your decision is not final.

Make sure you’re direct in your conversation – however difficult it may be. As soon as the meeting starts, inform them that the purpose is to terminate their employment, so the employee doesn’t get the wrong idea.

Being wishy-washy or using weak language will bring nothing but grief if the employee thinks they have a chance to get you to change your mind.

If you prepare well for the meeting and practice what you’re going to say to the employee, you will be reasonably articulate. Furthermore, you’ll have a coworker on hand to support you should you run out of words.

8. Do: Have someone escort the employee out

Experts have different opinions about whether or not employees should be escorted off the premises by security.

While there is a need to protect your company from problems caused by disgruntled employees, you also don’t want to treat your employees like criminals once they’ve been dismissed.

But, it’s important to keep in mind that the decision to fire an employee can be fraught with hazards. You need to be able to anticipate and navigate the different things that may come up.

For instance, if the employee becomes upset, don’t let them go back to their desks. In addition, once the meeting ends, they should not be allowed access to your company’s information, IT systems, or their colleagues.

You can avoid problems by rescinding the employee’s access to these electronic systems, cloud-based computer systems, etc., during or slightly before the termination meeting. If necessary, change security passwords and computer access logins to protect your data.

The important thing, though, is that whichever method you choose, you must treat your ex-employee respectfully. Do your best to avoid turning the situation into an embarrassing scene.

9. Do: Consider providing a reference letter

A major part of letting an employee go with dignity is to provide them with a reference letter. This will greatly assist them in their search for new employment.

Helping them find new employment quickly benefits not only the employee but also you as the former employer. It significantly diminishes the risk of having any legal claims brought against you.

So, unless you dismissed the employee “for cause”, always consider providing the departing employee with a reference letter.

10. Don’t: End the termination meeting on a low note

While there is no pleasant way to fire an employee, it’s in everyone’s best interests for that person to move forward with their life as soon as possible.

One way to help them do that is to end the meeting on a positive note.

For instance, if they are allowed to collect unemployment, you can tell them so. Unless the employee exhibited egregious behavior, this is a great way to help them transition to whatever comes next for them in terms of how they will earn a living.

You can also end the meeting with advice about how to get started in job searching. You might even offer a few suggestions of the types of jobs that are a perfect fit for their skills.

Also, consider suggesting some additional courses, such as sales training, SEO certifications, or any other relevant online learning that could improve their chances of securing a great position.

Don’t offer advice such as real estate investment or paid surveys which, while lucrative, won’t allow them to replace their income immediately.

But do use words of encouragement. For example, tell the employee that their contributions were valued at your company and that you are confident that they will find a job that is better suited for them.

Depending on their skills, they may even be better suited for freelance work, but they’ve never considered it as a real option. For instance, if the person is technically-minded, they might find work as a freelance web designer.

A final word

Letting an employee go is a difficult and sometimes traumatic decision for business owners and managers.

If you find yourself in a situation where you have to fire one of your employees, you now know what to do and what not to do.

Follow the tips outlined above on how to fire an employee in order to ensure everything goes smoothly and avoid landing in hot water.

You can tailor the termination process to make it your own by deciding what you want to include or exclude. But remember, the important thing is to be as comfortable as possible with what you will say and do so you can make the best of a very difficult situation.

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