Use Compassion and Tact When Terminating an Employee
Firing someone can be a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable task, but it’s a responsibility that goes with a management position. To ensure the process is legal, fair and professional, plan all of the details of the termination in advance to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Talk to Human Resources
Your human resources department or hiring manager should be consulted prior to terminating an employee. Your HR contact can help you assess the employee’s hiring agreement or employment contract, which likely spells out the terms of their employment. This approach helps ensure you are following company policy and your state’s laws in terms of termination. To justify firing, you may be required to submit documented proof of poor performance, internal conflicts, habitual lateness or other offenses. Consulting with HR can also help ensure you have all necessary severance paperwork on hand, including but not limited to a final paycheck or pay for unused sick time or vacation. You may also need to provide the staffer with information related to continuing health care coverage through COBRA or options for handling a 401(k) or profit-sharing agreement.
Fire the staffer in person, when possible, rather than over the phone or via text or email. If distance or other circumstances make a face-to-face discussion impossible, be specific, straight to the point and follow the same type of script you would use if conducting the meeting in your office.
Arrange to talk to the employee uninterrupted and in private. It’s also critical that you don’t let news of the termination make its way to the rest of the staff prior to it taking place. Arrange a time and place that will allow the employee some degree of privacy during the termination and shortly thereafter, particularly if she or he will need to clean out a workspace, turn over keys and identification, and sign severance paperwork.
Stick to the Facts
Be frank and straightforward when you break the news. Use concrete examples of why the termination is taking place and provide supporting documentation, where appropriate. Note previous attempts to rectify said behavior, such as suspension, counseling or any other means that were tried prior to the firing offense. Quote company policy, if necessary, to reinforce your position.
“Bob, we are terminating your employment effective immediately. As we discussed in January and again in June of this year, your performance metrics were off target considerably. While I had hoped that pairing you with a more seasoned sales professional would help improve your skills, your numbers not only remained flat, but have been in decline for the last two reporting periods.”
How to Fire a Friend
Firing an employee you are friendly with can be especially difficult, particularly if you have inside knowledge of the individual’s personal life or finances. However, use caution in showing unprofessional levels of sympathy, as it could make the process more difficult. Even though you might have a personal relationship with the individual outside the office environment, be clear that you can’t talk about the firing in any context. You can maintain a friendly camaraderie by offering to help your friend make contacts within your industry, offer to do mock interviews or write a letter of recommendation that focuses on your personal relationship rather than your business connection.
While there’s nothing “nice” about getting fired, you can comfort the staffer by offering a modicum of understanding during the process. Use phrases such as, “I know this is difficult,” or, “I sympathize with your position.” You don’t want to condescend, but you can acknowledge the myriad emotions the employee is likely facing.
You can use a slightly different approach to termination if you are laying someone off because of a company downsizing or closure. In this instance, you might be able to reassure the individual that performance was not an issue, and in fact, offer them a referral, recommendation or job training, if possible. If your company is faced with downsizing, expect follow-up questions from others in the office, particularly if the terminated individual’s workload is to be distributed to remaining employees.
Be Prepared for Backlash
Depending on the nature of the firing, you may find yourself faced with an emotional employee who attempts to bargain, intimidate or even threaten you over your decision. If you have any reason to believe the firing may escalate to an uncomfortable level, make arrangements to have an HR rep with you during the process or have security personnel standing by in the event you need assistance.
Lisa McQuerrey has been an award-winning writer and author for more than 25 years. She specializes in business, finance, workplace/career and education. Publications she’s written for include Nevada Woman Magazine and Education.com.