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When it’s time to fire…And how to do it: 4 steps to firing an employee without any drama.

By Shraga Jacobowitz

In our last two newsletters (see here and here), we discussed how to hire the perfect employee, but despite all our good intentions, sometimes the day comes when we have to fire an employee.  (Insert Gasp and sigh of dread here) If you speak to most business owners, they’ll most likely say firing employees is one of the hardest tasks that falls on their plate. In fact, the average employer waits way too long to fire a non-performing employee because they are dreading the task, although retaining them is costing them money, time and even customers in the long run. Which is why dreadful or not, firing is a necessary evil in business and should never be avoided.

However, keep in mind that just like hiring the perfect employee is a process, firing the not so perfect employee is a process as well. But since there are laws that govern who you may or may not fire and what you may or may not be allowed to fire for, firing someone can actually be a lot more complicated than hiring them. So what do you need to know before firing someone in your organization?

#1 Weigh your Options

Like our discussion with hiring, the first step is to consider if you really need to fire this employee. Realize that not all employees are suited for every position. Before firing someone, consider whether perhaps they would be better fit at a different job within your company.  Obviously this is only if the employee has done nothing wrong and exhibits great qualities and work ethic, but is sinking at their current position. Sometimes the difference between an amazing employee and an employee you are rearing to fire is TRAINING, TRAINING and more TRAINING (refer back to my second newsletter on hiring practices to see just how important training is). It may be that the employee you are considering firing, just needs some additional training and/or development. Offering them that training or development can gain you the perfect employee.  And not to toot the PEO horn once again, but PEOs often offer this training and courses to employees of their clients.

#2 Protect Yourself and Company

If you’re in the legal right to fire the employee (again, a PEO provider can assist in determining whether this is the case or not) you want to leave no room for a fraudulent case.

  1. Only fire someone face-to-face! Besides being courteous to your former employee, face-to-face leaves no room for miscommunication.
  2. Do not fire anyone without warning! Again, it’s a simple courtesy, but also, a warning legitimizes your claim against the employee. If you’ve told them already you’re not happy with their performance, they shouldn’t be surprised to be fired when they don’t improve. Also, no one wants to work in an environment where firings happen out of the blue. It just creates an environment of fear and distrust among your remaining employees.
  3. As a follow-up to #2 above, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! (I don’t need to tell you what it means when I repeat myself three times, you know already that it just indicates how important this advice is. And IT IS! So don’t ignore it.) So what to document? Everything!! Okay not clear enough, here are some examples of important things to have records of:
    • How well or un-well (isn’t that the antonym of well?) they performed their job. If someone is excelling write down….not so much so, write that down as well.
    • Any infraction they did with time, place, details and witnesses names if applicable.
    • Any disciplinary action that was taken at the time of each infraction
    • The amount of time given to rectify the situation
    • Any warnings given before disciplinary action was taken. Make sure to record each time a warning was issued and by default each time said warning was ignored.

As with any other types of documentation, have concrete proof of everything. And if something was relayed verbally, follow it up with an email so you have written proof of all interactions.

  1. Don’t fire an employee without a witness! The reason for this one should be obvious. If you have someone who is there to attest to your reason and method of firing, it is harder for someone to make a claim of employment discrimination.
  2. Protect your property and data. Terminate the employee’s access to all your systems immediately and change any passwords you may have, and don’t allow them to access their work area. Ask the employee to hand over their key, door pass, badge and any electronic equipment that is company owned, i.e., smartphone, laptop, tablet etc.
  3. Keep it short and simple! The more information you give, the more fuel they have to fight you. If you’ve given them the proper warnings (see #2), then they know why they are getting fired and there’s no need to rehash it. Honestly, it might just be cruel to do so.
  4. Don’t end the meeting on a low note! Sounds like odd advice for a termination meeting, but the reality of the situation is no one wants a disgruntled former employee (especially in the world of social media). If the firing is done respectfully, you are accommodating and acknowledge the employee’s positive attributes, you are more likely to have an employee who won’t bash you on social media or TP your house. Unless they’ve truly been awful, don’t deny them unemployment benefits and encourage them in their next steps towards employment. If applicable, you can even offer to be a reference for their next job.  If you are able to and if the situation warrants it, offer a compensation package. Basically, be nice and you’ll make a very hard situation a bit easier (although, I’m not promising that there still won’t be tears, because unfortunately, most likely there will be tears!)

#3 Be Prepared

Like we mentioned above, some classes of workers are protected based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability….you get the point. Therefore, when you are firing anyone, especially someone who falls in these protected classes, make sure you have a clear reason why you are firing them and have documentation. Don’t wait until an employee becomes a problem to begin documenting. Have a clearly defined method of tracking and documenting employee performance, establish uniform policies on what is expected and what is a fire-worthy offense, and if possible, discuss and correct problems as soon as they occur. If you’re really not sure if you have a leg to stand on, reach out to a professional (just saying, your PEO can most likely help you with this).

#4 Interview, Interview & Interview

And, no I’m not talking about hiring the replacement for your fired employee just yet (that we covered in our last newsletters), but I’m actually referring to Exit Interviews.  All too often, this important step is skipped, but they are a valuable tool for any business owner. They can help bring to light issues within your company. After all, a fired employee has nothing left to lose, so they’ll be as blunt as possible and everyone needs to hear the blunt truth every once in a while.  Now obviously, if your employee is leaving on bad terms and has a “burn the company down to the ground” mentality, you may want to take what they have to say with a heaping tablespoon of salt. But otherwise, be open to the criticism and see how you can improve both the work environment for your current employees, and implement ideas to attract better new hires.  This step holds true whether you are firing someone or they are quitting.

#5 Be Transparent

There’s nothing that strikes fear more in employees’ hearts than hearing that a colleague was fired!  Unless you want to run a company on fear (trust me, you don’t – it’s not really the motivator you think it is), be open with your remaining employees about the circumstances of the firing. You don’t have to share the intimate details, but recognize that a change has been made to the staff and assure them that their jobs are still safe (unless they’re not, and if that’s case, go back to #1 and repeat).

Obviously, the best option is to not have to fire at all, but when you do, keeping these points in mind can definitely make the process a lot easier, smoother and minimize your stress, dread and fear.

Want to find out how a PEO can help you attract and retain quality employees or how they can help you with your HR administrative tasks so that both hiring and firing can be easier? Contact ARC Consultants today.