Learning how to terminate an employee is just as important as hiring great employees. Not knowing how to fire someone properly can quickly land your company in an expensive legal minefield. Firing an employee is a difficult and sensitive process that every company has to perform at some point regardless of how great their hiring process is.
How to Fire an Employee:
1. Revisit performance reviews.
Have you given them positive reviews recently? In cases of a severe infraction, this may not be a problem. If you’ve got a documented paper trail of warnings skip to step 3. Need a form? We've got a downloadable, printable employee evaluation form, and an employee write up form.
2. Document issues, and make the employee aware of them.
If you’re considering firing them for performance, start documenting problems and pointing them out to the employee when they happen. Firing employees is much easier when you have a system of properly documenting issues and notifying employees when they occur.
3. Schedule another review.
Arrange a meeting to review their performance as soon as possible, and talk to them about exactly what the issues are and how they can fix them.
Give them a probation period during which they must fix the problems, and let them know that termination is a possible outcome. Be sure to file detailed notes on the review.
4. Check in with the employee during their probation period.
As the deadline approaches, check in with the employee and let them know where they stand. If they’re headed for termination, you don’t want it to be a surprise. They should know exactly where they are falling short, and what it means to their job.
5. Don’t procrastinate when it comes to firing.
If you get to the end of the probation period and the employee hasn’t met the standards, terminate as soon as possible. Don’t let a week drag by with everyone wondering what’s going to happen. Fire them early in the week, preferably on a Monday. Deciding what to say when terminating an employee during probation period is simpler as the probation period exists to make firing new employees easier.
6. Keep the termination meeting short, stick to the facts, be clear and firm.
At the termination meeting, don’t fall into blame or arguing. State clearly that they “have been terminated” using the past tense. Don’t leave room for negotiation. Have someone from HR or another manager present as a witness.
Explain clearly what their next steps are - when they’re expected to leave, what further benefits or severance they’re entitled to, how to handle company property, etc. Provide a termination letter that also spells out these steps.
7. Incentivize them to sign a release.
To help your company avoid lawsuits, it may be wise to offer an incentive, such as increased severance pay, if the employee signs a release of claims form that essentially releases the company from any liability. At many companies, it is required that terminated employees sign a release before receiving their severance package.
8. Have them leave the premises immediately.
Give the employee a chance to get their things, but have them escorted as they do so. This should be done immediately after firing. The idea is to reduce any temptation for them to damage the company while they’re upset. Keep security in mind during this phase. Have any keys, badges and credit cards returned and change computer passwords.
Firing an employee is never easy and unlike many of the other dreaded tasks that you try to do quickly or swiftly, terminating someone should not be one of them. Firing someone deserves a lot of thought and heart. It takes mindful preparation and sympathetic empathy. If you want to do it right, lead with your heart and lace it with compassion.
Reasons to Fire Someone:
How do you know when it's time to fire someone? Knowing when to fire an employee is difficult without proper performance monitoring and a strict progressive discipline process.
As a simple rule, when poor performance goes beyond the employee just needing another chance, a little more training, or extra time, you should seriously consider terminating their employment.
Sometimes this is cut and dry. You may have strict policies against specific behaviors or actions that clearly establish the need to terminate an employee.
Other times the need to terminate an employee comes after a pattern of behavior is established, and it's a little less clear when the line is crossed. Follow the points below to help you find a list of reasons to fire an employee.
1. Termination for behavior.
Behavioral issues are a common reason for firing somoene. If management has put in the time to try to correct bad behavior and documented it, but the problem continues or worsens, it's time to let the employee go. Allowing bad behavior to continue after warnings sets a bad example and hurts morale.
2. Termination for performance.
Employees who cannot meet performance goals are often terminated after being given a chance to improve. If training and reviews haven't worked, it's a sign that they may just be in the wrong position. If you can't move them into another position, it's time to terminate.
3. Termination for bad attitude.
Termination for bad attitude may be tough, legally speaking. If the employee works at-will, you may be best not giving a reason. If the employee is not at-will, and must be fired for cause, you'll need to document specific examples of the attitude problems first.
4. Termination for insubordination.
If an employee refuses to carry out duties that are part of the job description, refuses to carry out a lawful and ethical directive by management, or disrespectful toward a manager or supervisor, it's time to consider terminating for insubordination. You'll want to carefully document any instances of it.
5. Termination for sexual harassment.
Employers who do not heed sexual harassment complaints risk being held liable for a hostile work environment. If there is specific evidence, document it well. If an employee works at-will, and evidence is unclear, it may be best to fire without giving a reason.
6. Termination for attendance.
If employee attendance consistently violates company policy, it may be time to fire them. Be sure to document each case of it, and make the employee aware of the consequences of continued absences or tardiness.
7. Terminating for bullying.
Workplace bullying, or workplace harassment, in the form of unwelcome, hostile behavior, is often a reason for termination. Document all complaints about it, and make the consequences clear.
8. Termination for safety violations.
Terminating an employee for saftey violations can be risky, even if merited, because it can potentially be seen as retaliating against an employee for reporting safety issues. Get legal assistance if safety issues are leading you to consider firing someone.
Other situations may precipitate a firing as well, such as a serious code of conduct breach, or when an employee simply stops showing up, in which case you have a job abandonment.
Termination for Cause:
Termination for cause is when an employee is fired for a specific reason. This includes violating laws, violating the employee code of conduct, threatening or harassing colleagues or clients, unethical behavior, unsafe behavior and more.
You are not ruining the person’s life. Probably, you are helping them move toward a job that fits them better somewhere else. Feel compassion, care, and hope – not fear – when you enter the room and hold this space throughout the conversation. Be clear why they must go, but support their potential.
Ask yourself: why are you firing them? Is there anything you can do to make them an ideal team member? Are you firing for attitude or for skills? In our experience, we’ve learnt you can train someone with a good attitude and a good work ethic. But you can’t train for attitude. Even with the right skill set, an employee with the wrong attitude will never be right for your business.
How to Protect Your Company from Wrongful Termination Suits:
Here are 5 tips to help protect your business from wrongful termination suits.
1. Keep good records.
Instances of bad behavior, safety violations, performance issues, corrective measures, warnings, etc. that can back up the reasoning behind your decision should be well documented.
2. Treat employees equally.
Firing one employee for something while allowing others to continue work who have done the same thing gives the appearance of discrimination. Before firing, compare the case to others. Have you let other employees stay for the same infractions?
3. Follow your own policies.
Be sure you have followed company policies regarding warnings, progressive discipline, and terminations.
4. Don't jump to conclusions.
Investigate to be sure that there hasn't been some misunderstanding, and that your information about what lead to the decision to terminate is accurate.
5. Get legal help.
I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the internet. Get assistance from a professional lawyer to be sure you are not violating laws, or giving the appearance of doing so.
In every state in the U.S. except Montana, most employees work "at will" by default, meaning that they can be fired at anytime, for any legal reason.
Illegal Reasons for Firing an Employee:
|Discrimination.||It's illegal to fire someone because of their gender, age (over 40), race, nationality, religion, disability or for genetic information.|
|Refusal to take a lie detector test.||You can't fire someone because they didn't take a lie detector.|
|Alien status.||If an employee is legally eligible to work in the U.S. you cannot fire them for their alien status.|
|Retaliation.||It is illegal to fire an employee for exercising their state or federal rights under anti-discrimination laws.|
|Complaining about OSHA violations.||It is illegal to fire an employee for complaining about health and safety violations that violate OSHA rules.|
|For reporting public policy violations.||This includes firing an employee for exercising a legal right, for complaining about illegal activities, or refusing to do something illegal.|
Jennifer Lee Wilson
When firing an employee, ask yourself: - Have you done all that you must to ensure that this termination is “by the book”? - Did you clearly map out expectations? - Have you shared how the employee failed to meet those expectations in multiple sessions and given them ample time to turn their performance around? - Did you document each of those performance discussions in writing? - Has the employee received a written warning for performance? - If the employee is in a protected class, have you sought labor counsel? If you’ve done these things, then you’re ready to terminate their employment. If not, you may still have work to do before taking this final step.
The most important thing when firing an employee is to make sure you are doing so in accordance with the laws and regulations in place. You want to make sure you have cause.
Make sure your firing decision is based on pre-defined rules clearly understood by the entire team.
How to Prepare to Fire an Employee:
The decision has been made, but before you have the meeting to let an employee go, you should do some preparing.
Here are 5 things you should do to be prepared for terminating an employee.
1. Review records.
Be sure to review any personnel records to be sure you have a clear understanding of what lead to this decision, and what actions the company took to prevent it.
2. Understand what will happen to pay and benefits.
Employees may have questions about this, and if they don't you should explain when they can expect their next pay check, what days they will be paid for, and what will happen next with their benefits.
3. Plan for other logistical issues.
Think about the individual employee, and any steps you'll need to take with them. Do they have a company car to turn in? Keys? An ID badge? Equipment? Know the next steps with these.
4. Plan for succession.
What will happen to projects, clients, etc. that they're working with?
5. Know the employee's next steps.
Let them know when their last day is, if there's anything they need to wrap up, how they can get personal items, etc.
6. Review policy.
Talk to HR or your company's lawyer, if possible, to make sure you're clear on any legal issues regarding the termination.
When will they receive their last check? What will happen to their benefits? What happens if they have a company car?
The most important thing to keep in mind when firing an employee is how it affects the other employees on the team. They're often forgotten about, so it's important that you're able to remove any fear they might have about what this means for them and their future. Be transparent, and explain why you did it, what they should expect, and how their roles might change.
What to Say When Firing an Employee:
1. Get right to the point.
Avoid pleasantries that give them the wrong impression. Let them know you've got bad news, that "their employment has been terminated," with no room for misinterpretation or ambiguity.
2. Stick to the facts.
Avoid opinions about the reason. If they're being fired because of repeated tardiness, say that. Don't call them irresponsible. If it's because they failed a drug test, tell them that specifically, rather than saying it's because they have a drug problem.
3. Don't argue, just listen.
It's natural that employees who have been terminated will want to argue. Listen, tell them that you "understand that they feel that way," but that the decision is final. Once you've stated the facts, don't get drawn into further explanation.
4. Don't blame, and accept responsibility for the decision.
Avoid giving the appearance that this was someone else's decision and that you wouldn't have done this.
5. Thank them for their contributions.
Keep it simple and open, like, "We appreciate the contributions you have made to the company." Even the worst employees have likely made some contribution, and a little appreciation may go a long way. Just make sure it's short and sweet.
6. Give them clear next steps.
Let them know all the logistics from here out - how pay will be handled, benefits, company property, personal property, ongoing work, their last day, etc
7. Keep it short.
The general advice is 15 minutes. The employee needs time to process what has happened, and you shouldn't do too much talking - it leaves you open to saying something that could come back to haunt you.
8. The sooner the better.
The longer you wait, the worse this is going to be. It's likely everyone has some clue what's going on, and you waiting just makes everyone more uneasy. The faster you do it, the faster everyone can move on.
Additional advice for the termination meeting: Choose a comfortable, private place. If the employee has a private office, this is best. Otherwise, choose a neutral place, such as a conference room, that gives privacy.
Can You Terminate an Employee over the Phone?
There is no federal law against firing an employee over the phone, and no state law either. In fact, there's no law stipulating how you have to notify someone, exactly, although some states require that you give employees a termination letter.
Heather R. Huhman
Go into the conversation assuming the employee is going to tell everyone they know -- including their social media connections -- exactly what you say and how you behave. No matter the reason you're parting ways, do so with professionalism and empathy. If you're in a position to and mean it sincerely, offer to help them find a new position in any way you can. Don't take part in the rumor mill -- other employees don't need to know the finer details of the conversation.
When firing an employee you may try to soften the blow, but the last thing you want to do is leave someone confused by why they were fired. Be kind and be truthful and focus on the facts. Sugar coating may make you feel better, but your message may get lost in the mix.
Conducting an Exit Interview:
This is more often done with employees who are leaving voluntarily, or because of layoffs.
There's a good chance that an employee who has been fired will not be interested in participating, and the information they do provide, should they participate, will obviously be colored by circumstances.
But there's also the potential to get valuable, unfiltered information that may prove valuable to the company, especially if the feedback shows a pattern over time. Here are a few tips for getting a final exit interview.
1. Have a neutral, 3rd party do it.
If your company is large enough to have HR staff, they would be appropriate. If not, there may be another ranking employee that can do it. An exit interview with the person that just fired them is not usually a good idea.
2. Use a written or online survey.
This is a good option if you don't have the HR staff or someone else appropriate to conduct the interview. A paper version can be given to them on their last day of work or mailed afterward. The electronic version can be emailed. Google Forms are an easy and free way to create an online survey and organize the information afterward.
3. Make it part of a final Q&A session.
Depending on the circumstances of the termination, there may be a final meeting with the former employee to get any questions about pay, benefits, etc. answered. If the meeting is with HR or another neutral 3rd party, it may be a good time to see if they're open to an exit interview.
4. A few questions to ask.
You won't want to ask the same questions of a fired employee as you would a laid off or quitting employee. Probably best to keep it to a few short questions. Here are some examples.
- What was the most difficult or frustrating thing about your time with us?
- What was the most positive thing about your time with us?
- Is there any message you think management needs to hear?
- If you could change something about how we operate, what would it be?
In the end, terminating an employee is not going to be enjoyable, and you probably won't feel great about yourself afterward. That's just part of being human. If you've created a solid process around terminating employees though, this will ultimately be a better situation for you and your co-workers.