Firing an Employee
No manager enjoys the prospect of firing an employee. Firing someone is the most serious consequence for failing to improve. Before you come to the decision that you need to end a person's employment, you must be sure in your heart of hearts that this is the right thing to do. Then you must make certain that you have complied with any and all relevant laws, regulations, and company policies and that all of the paperwork is completely in order.
Laws may regulate employee actions such as firing in your state. Most companies further establish strict policies that require extensive documentation affirming that you have followed those policies. Work closely with your HR department, if your company has one, to be sure you do things right — for your sake as well as the employee's. This is a decision from which there is no turning back.
Most private sector (non-government) jobs are “work at will” positions in which the employee works at the will (and sometimes whimsy) of the employer. Though most mid-size to large companies have specific “fire for cause” policies and terms of employment, these protections are not as yet required by law. In “work at will” states, companies do not need reasons to fire employees, though federal discrimination laws may apply in some circumstances.
The decisions you make regarding an employee's job status — to promote or not, to give a raise or not, to fire or keep on — are not decisions to make without careful deliberation. Plan the meeting to fire the employee according to your company's policies and procedures.
Some managers prefer to conduct a firing at the end of the workday, so the employee can collect his or her things and leave without everyone else watching. Will a security guard have to escort the fired employee back to the office to gather his or her possessions and then out of the building? Do you or an HR representative need to supervise the packing?
As humiliating as such requirements might seem, they are often necessary safeguards for the company to prevent theft or sabotage. If the employee has valued work saved on the company's computer network or on a company computer, back up all the files the night before you intend to fire the employee as an added protection.
Before the meeting, rehearse what you intend to say. Practice speaking clearly and unemotionally. When you do meet with the employee, take the following steps:
Have an HR representative or your boss present as well. This bolsters your authority and lessens the likelihood of emotional pleas or outbursts.
If your company policies or employment agreements allow the employee to have a representative present, make sure the scheduled meeting accommodates this.
Keep the conversation short, to the point, and unemotional.
Review the conversations and documentation that support the decision to fire the employee.
In this meeting, it is not necessary or advisable to invite the employee's comments or perspective. The time for that is long past. If you've done your job as a manager, the firing shouldn't come as a total shock to the employee (although the finality of it might be temporarily stunning). You've counseled the employee about his or her performance issues or whatever problems have led to this point, and you've given the employee plenty of opportunities to fix the problems. Keep your cool and stick with the script you've rehearsed. If it is necessary for someone to escort the fired employee from the premises, be sure that person is ready and waiting.
Union contracts, collective bargaining agreements, and other binding pacts may stipulate the conditions and procedures for firing an employee. It is essential to follow such stipulations to protect yourself and your company from legal action down the road.
As soon as possible after the terminated employee has gone, assemble the other members of the team to give them the news. Keep the reasons for the employee's termination to yourself; such information is confidential. It's important to treat people with respect after they've been fired, regardless of the reasons for firing them.
Chances are, the other team members knew this was coming and they know better than you do why this was the only option. Sometimes, however, you need to reassure other employees that this was a matter specific to the fired employee; it's natural for them to feel some fear and apprehension about the security of their own jobs.
Other employees may want to talk about how they feel, but it's generally better to focus on how duties will be reassigned, what the plans are for hiring a replacement, and other such work-related details. The key is to move on. Those who remain will watch how you handle things, and their perceptions will affect their attitudes, performance, and loyalty.