How to Fire Someone

It's never an easy task to tell an employee that he is being terminated but it may become a necessity if his incompetence, insubordination or violation of company policies are impacting operations and affecting the morale of the rest of your staff. Here are tips on how to make the exit as painless as possible.

Ensure that you have not only thoroughly documented the employee's actions that support termination but have also discussed them with her in person. If you attempt to fire an employee without having given her any warning, it will become a case of "No one ever told me I was doing anything wrong" and could escalate into something very ugly.

Conduct your personnel meetings in private and out of earshot of other employees. Even though they may all be aware of the fact that there is a problem brewing, the purpose of your meetings is not to humiliate or embarrass an employee who is already treading on thin ice.

Give the employee a reasonable timeframe (such as 2 to 4 weeks) to turn things around. In addition, give the employee a chance to explain if there are extenuating circumstances or distractions affecting her ability to perform the duties of the job (i.e., a recent death in the family, a child having trouble in school, etc.). In the presence of a rep from your HR department, have the employee sign a copy of the evaluation as proof that she understands what she needs to do in order to improve her job performance and attitude.

Place a copy of the signed evaluation in the employee's personnel file.

Monitor the employee's behavior and attitude over the agreed upon time frame.

Have paperwork prepared in advance of the firing in the event the employee fails to meet the performance standards you have set. If the employee has unused vacation or sick leave credits or will be receiving any benefits and severance pay, these things need to be explained and available during the termination process.

Schedule the termination meeting at the beginning of the day or at the beginning of the week and have your HR person in attendance. The mistaken belief that a Friday afternoon will give an employee the weekend to calm down and adjust to his firing has often had the opposite effect, with the two most dangerous results being suicide or returning to the office on Monday with a weapon.

Keep your announcement brief, clear and firm. If you don't, the employee will mistakenly assume that he is being given a chance to talk you out of your management decision and into another extension of his review period.

Explain the date and time the termination takes effect. In most cases, this will be at the conclusion of the meeting so as not to allow an angry employee the chance to sabotage your operations, steal data or supplies, or converse with other employees.

Thank the employee for his service and assure him that anything that has been discussed regarding his termination will remain confidential. Wish him well and, if advised to do so by your company attorney, explain what will be said if you are asked for references by future employers.

Collect all keys, computer pass cards, ID badge, corporate credit cards and anything else the employee has previously been assigned in order to access the building and its contents.

Arrange to have the employee escorted to her work space to collect personal items and then be escorted to the door.

Reassign the employee's duties to existing staff until such time as you are able to hire a replacement.

Squelch the office rumor mill by simply saying that the employee is no longer working there. They needn't be given any details about the termination.

Tips

  • Be fair but firm. No one likes to play the bad guy but the bottom line is that an employee who isn't pulling his weight is sending a message to the rest of your staff that they, too, can start slacking off without any repercussions. Don't be swayed by sob stories; your only job was to be their employer, not their personal counselor. Secret scribbles don't count in building a case against someone. If they are doing something wrong or inappropriate, it does them no good if you're keeping it all to yourself and then presenting them with a lengthy laundry list of faults. When you first hire someone, you should always provide them with an employee manual of job performance standards and company policies (i.e., no surfing the Internet on company time, no personal phone calls except if it's an emergency, etc.). Have the employee sign a document stating that he has received the manual and agrees to read and adhere by its contents. Being up front about your expectations will make the process much easier in the event you later have to fire someone for breaking the rules.

Warnings

  • In Step 3, make sure the employee is aware that termination can occur at any point during the review period. Otherwise, an employee could assume that he has been granted a reprieve and is guaranteed a job for the next 2 to 4 weeks regardless of his performance. Never fire someone the day before a major holiday or a three-day weekend. It's even worse than firing someone on a Friday afternoon.

Resources

About the Author

Ghostwriter and film consultant Christina Hamlett has written professionally since 1970. Her credits include many books, plays, optioned features, articles and interviews. Publishers include HarperCollins, Michael Wiese Productions, "PLAYS," "Writer's Digest" and "The Writer." She holds a B.A. in communications (emphasis on audience analysis and message design) from California State University, Sacramento. She also travels extensively and is a gourmet chef.