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How to Fire an Employee Without Loose Ends

Having to fire an employee is undoubtedly a hard task. No one likes being the one who breaks the bad news, especially if it’s expected the person will react badly or “shoot the messenger”.

Most often than not, it is an emotionally strenuous and stressful process for both the person delivering the news and the person getting them.

However, having into consideration certain emotional and practical matters can ensure the termination process occurs smoothly and with no resulting legal conflicts.

This article will point out the most important aspects regarding the right way of firing an employee.

Topics such as the just cause for firing, the firing process, and do’s and dont’s when firing will be addressed.

How to Fire an Employee – A Guide on the Termination Process

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How to Fire an Employee Legally? Key Points to Keep in Mind

Be respectful and professional

Do: Show consideration for what they’re going through.

Don’t: Feel like you have to take the blame – this isn’t a personal matter.

Respect the employee’s privacy

Do: Keep HR posted and consult with an attorney to avoid legal issues.

Don’t: Avoid discussing the termination details with other employees or people who aren’t directly involved in it.

Offer to write a recommendation letter

Do: Write a recommendation letter if you think they have the skills to do great elsewhere.

Don’t: If you genuinely do not recommend this person.

How to Fire an Employee – Key Points to Keep in Mind

Keep the termination meeting brief

Do: Go straight to the point and stick to the facts.

Don’t: Procrastinate – the more you delay it, the worse the blow will be.

Be professional at all times

Do: Show compassion to the emotional hardship that is getting fired.

Don’t: Get into an argument if the employee gets upset or retaliates – keep calm and firmly say that your decision is final.

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Why Fire an Employee – List of Reasons

Sometimes, companies may be forced to dismiss employees because they are simply in need of reducing staff to cut back on costs (a.k.a. downsizing).

However, many times managers see themselves in a situation where they need to let an employee go for a specific reason. There is a plenitude of fair reasons for dismissing an employee, either they’re employed at will or with a contract.

If the person is employed at will, employers aren’t legally obliged to provide a warning or a reason for their dismissal. Except that, if they did sign a work contract, it should be clearly stated in those documents that the person may be fired upon violating certain rules or norms.

This set of rules is usually referred to as the company’s code of conduct. Besides these non-performance issues, employees may also be dismissed for not performing well enough on their job.

These are seen as just causes for firing someone. More concrete examples of those are:

Employee Poor Performance

An employee that performs poorly is consistently failing to do the essential function of their job. Most times, they aren’t able to meet their individual goals, which can also harm the achievement of team goals.

Working with a teammate that underperforms can also be draining for the other team members, who feel the need to compensate with their own work. Therefore, if training and employee development haven’t resulted in improved performance, it’s best for the company to terminate.

Why Fire an Employee

Employee Bad Attitude or Behavior

Keeping an employee with a bad attitude or who repeatedly demonstrates behavioral issues can be counter-productive for your business’s success.

If even after providing a warning, the employee continues to interact negatively with customers, co-workers, or managers, termination is highly advised.

Also, if there’s a contract, don’t forget to appropriately document issues and specific examples of bad attitudes or behavior, so there’s legal proof.

Employee Insubordination

If an employee intentionally refuses to take on the duties of their job or disregards their assigned tasks over and over again, they’re severely undermining the delegation process.

Insubordination can not only make it harder for a manager to successfully do their job, but it can also result in decreased productivity.

For this reason, if the situation doesn’t improve after a warning, there are valid grounds for the employee’s dismissal.

Employee Harassment

Harassment is a very serious ethic violation and thus this type of situation should not be taken lightly, and also be approached with legal knowledge.

Both sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace contribute to a hostile environment which can be very damaging to morale and other employees’ well-being.

Be sure to document all complaints and incidents for evidence.

Safety Violation

Violating safety rules or procedures can not only put at risk the employee themselves but also their coworkers.

Safety is a very important workplace right, so accordingly, in what comes to hazard prevention, employee training is imperative.

However, if even after appropriate training, an employee deliberately ignores safety rules and causes safety issues, they should be terminated.

Employee Poor Attendance or Desertion

Most repeated situations of absenteeism or tardiness violate companies’ policy and thus constitute grounds for termination. Less commonly, job abandonment refers to when an employee stops reporting to work, with no prior notice.

In that case, after a given number of days of absence (for example, three consecutive days) the employer is in their right to dismiss the employee.

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5 Steps Guide On Employee Termination Process

In order for the termination process to occur as smoothly as possible and to ensure no legal issues arise, there are some considerations to take into account.

As labor and employment attorney David B. Ritter says, the goal is to “strike a balance between respecting the dignity of the individual being terminated, minimizing risks to the company, and demonstrating that the situation was handled objectively and humanely”.

The following is a complete guide on the process that explores those dynamics. It can help you terminate your employee in the best, most humane way possible.

1. Be Familiar With Your Company’s Policy on Termination

Understand how the termination process is handled in your company by examining the termination policy document. Make sure your decision to fire them is consistent with company policy.

Checking in with human resources and an employment attorney to scan for any problems that may arise with the dismissal is also advised, to prevent unlawful termination suits.

2. Analyze the Problem and Provide a Warning

Examine prior evaluations and scour for any possible reasons for their underperformance or misconduct. Be sure to appropriately document in-writing all the instances in which the problem has occurred.

If the problem isn’t rooted in poor training or other company’s responsibilities, provide the employee with a warning notice.

3. Give the Employee a Chance to Improve

Have the employee go through an honest performance review and from there, offer counseling or training.

Give them a chance to work on their poor behavior or performance issues and rectify the issue. Inform them of the consequences they’ll have to face upon failing to improve.

If after a given number of days no efforts to improve are made or the problem still persists, it’s best to terminate the employment.

4. Schedule and Prepare a Termination Meeting

Schedule with the employee a meeting for the dismissal. It’s important to plan ahead and come prepared for any reactions or questions that may arise from the employee.

Accordingly, have someone from HR present to serve as a witness, and make sure you bring the supporting documentation.

5. Keep the Meeting Short and to the Point

Let the employee know they’re being terminated as soon as the meeting starts. Make it clear that the decision is final and isn’t up for reconsideration.

Be honest with the reasons why they’re being let go. However, always remain respectful and show compassion to the difficulties they might be facing due to the dismissal.

Come prepared for a range of emotions – not everyone takes these kind of news in stride. Have HR clarify any doubts regarding the last paycheck, unused vacation time, and unemployment benefits.

Provide them with an employee termination letter, if it applies. Also, don’t forget to notify your other employees about their colleague’s termination of employment.

They may be left wondering if they’re on the chopping block too, so if that’s not the case, reassure them that their jobs are safe. If the dismissed person was part of a team, go over with the other teammates the best way to compensate for and minimize the impact of their absence.

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Firing a Remote Employee

According to a statistical study conducted by TECLA in 2019, 85% of managers believe that remote teams will become the new norm in the future.

Surely, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a lot of companies to turn to remote working for many of their employees. And while a remote job can bring a lot of benefits for both the employee and the company, the firing process isn’t as linear.

When it comes to delivering difficult news, it’s best to do it face-to-face. It doesn’t matter if your main channel of communication is in writing. If you can meet in person for the employment termination, choose to.

Firing a Remote Employee

However, if for some reason you absolutely cannot meet with the remote employee, choose to terminate them through video conferencing (Skype, or Zoom, for example).

Yes, firing someone over text or email might seem like an easy way out of a dreaded conversation, but it doesn’t show any respect to the human being they are. A video conference, on the other way, allows for body language and facial expressions to be seen.

This enhances the sense of empathy you can convey and dignifies the person being dismissed. Furthermore, by talking face to face, your words are less likely to be open for interpretation, which will avoid confusion from the employee.

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5 Practitioner Tips on Before Firing an Employee

1. Clarity is critical

The best way to avoid firing is a fail-proof hiring strategy. Be clear about your expectations as an employer when you hire. Accordingly, the job description should be detailed on the skills that are required for the type of work. This will prevent you from having to fire an unqualified worker who shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

2. Have frequent performance reviews

Having regular employee reviews and providing them with honest feedback lets the workers know how well they’re doing their job. It gives them a chance to correct themselves if something’s not working outright. And if they do, firing is altogether avoided.

3. Consult with human resources and legal departments

While consulting with the human resources department prevents practical issues that may arise with the termination, talking with an employment lawyer might be useful to make sure the actions you’re taking are legal. Same with firing for discriminatory reasons. You’ll avoid a wrongful termination, which could lead to a lawsuit or other legal problems.

5 Practitioner Tips on Before Firing an Employee

4. Don’t surprise the employee

If you plan to fire an employee, don’t surprise them with bad news as they least expect it. Besides being humiliating for the individual, it might call for a bad reaction. So be empathetic with their situation – give them a fair warning, and be transparent about the consequences they might be facing.

5. Mention something positive

According to this research, mentioning positive characteristics about the employee during the termination meeting will increase their sense of being treated with empathy and respect. Therefore, seek to include in the conversation some of their skills and talents and show appreciation for those, but do be sincere.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Firing an Employee

Do Employers Have to Give a Reason for Termination?

It depends on the type of employment agreement. If the individual is employed at will, there is no law that requires the employer to provide them with a reason for their termination. However, if there’s a signed employment contract, the employer might be obliged to do so, according to what is stated in company policy.

Do Employers Have to Give Written Warnings Before Firing Someone?

Legally speaking, at-will employees can be fired without being given written warnings, or any type of notice, for that matter. Even so, it is morally right to provide them with a prior warning and probation period, so they can right their performance or behavior.

Contracted employees may also be terminated immediately if engaging in highly inappropriate behaviors, such as sexual harassment, or for safety reasons.

How to Fire an Employee Respectfully?

  • Be familiar with your company’s termination policy
  • Analyze the problem and provide a warning
  • Give the employee a chance to improve
  • Schedule and prepare a termination meeting
  • Keep the meeting short and to the point

What to Say When Firing an Employee?

Begin the meeting by telling them upfront they are being terminated, and be transparent about the reason behind that decision. Be honest, firm, and clear with your words. Show compassion, but keep a formal and professional posture.

Answer any questions or doubts they may have about the transition. When ending the meeting, express your regrets on how the employment relationship didn’t work and wish them well on their journey.

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