Firing an employee is never a pleasant task. No matter what the history is, it’s challenging to make sure you’re firing the employee the right way. Doing so will help to ensure that there is no aftermath to the firing beyond the need to replace that employee. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has established guidelines as to the legal way to fire an employee, but there are also personal concerns about letting an employee go that need to be considered. Firing an employee the right way will address all the different aspects.
Aspects of Firing an Employee
Arguably, the most important aspect of firing an employee is the legal aspect. You don’t want to be blamed or even sued for acting in a manner that is out of compliance with state and federal regulations. For that, you can rely on online guidelines.
Another aspect of firing an employee is security and safety. You want the interaction to go as smoothly as possible without creating a scene. Leave the dramatic, blustery, “You’re fired!” antics to the movie industry. After the interaction, you don’t want the employee coming back to the premises to seek revenge, either.
A third aspect of firing an employee is even more personal and has to do with your responsibility as an employer for the livelihood of another person. It doesn’t feel good to send a person home abruptly with no way to put food on the table or pay their rent, no matter whose “fault” it is. Even if that employee was caught stealing, your heart may go out to their family members who have to suffer on account of it.
Addressing the Legal Aspects of Firing Someone
Staying in compliance when you fire someone is easier when you put a contract in place when you hire them. The hiring contract should include one or more clauses that deal with the firing process. This is the best way to protect yourself and your company from a wrongful termination lawsuit. And, even if the employee files a suit anyway, they’re not likely to win if you’ve followed the terms of your own hiring contract.
Employee manuals are another document that protect employers as well as employees. When an employee is performing sub-par, you can reference the employee manual for proof of expectations. This is also valuable for use during the actual firing interaction. It enables you as the employer to direct attention to specific breaches of the employee manual.
Most states in the U.S. have a stipulation that employees are hired “at-will.” This means that, technically, an employer has a right to fire at-will, for any reason, at any time. However, note that an employment contract trumps the at-will basis.
To protect against wrongful termination claims, such as discrimination, pregnancy, or supposedly unwarranted accusations, you should ensure that you have just cause for termination. Just cause would include items that are in direct violation of the employment contract. Note that it’s illegal to fire a person for something if they have a public right to behave as they did.
Legally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends taking these important steps for firing a person:
- Review the employee manual for the correct firing process and follow it to the letter.
- Record violations. Keep employee records and note dates and times of “fireable offenses.”
- Gather evidence to support your decision. The more proof you have that you are in the right to fire a person, the better protection you have.
- Provide benefit information. Employers are required to educate terminated workers about their benefits, including how to get their final paycheck, COBRA, unemployment agency alternatives, and the transfer of any relevant insurance policies or retirement accounts.
Addressing the Safety and Security Aspects of Firing Someone
When you fire a person, you need to ensure there won’t be negative backlash. This requires pre-planning on your part. To make the transition as smooth as possible, have the entire process planned out. Consider:
- Retaining employee key cards, id cards, keys, membership cards, etc. in the firing interview, before the former employee leaves your office.
- Having security escort the employee while they clean out their desk/cubicle/office.
- Acquiring a list of passwords used by the employee and having your IT department remove/change those passwords before the employee leaves the firing interview.
- Retaining any files on laptops used by the employee that have previously left the office.
- Retaining any company-owned mobile devices, such as phones, laptops, tablets, etc.
- Distributing a memo to the rest of the staff that the employee has been terminated and is not to be granted any access to company information/files, etc.
Finally, and most importantly, the firing interview should not be done in an overly negative manner. Remain as calm and objective as possible in the circumstances. Remember, the person is getting fired; they don’t need a lecture from you on top of it. They already feel bad. Just keep it completely professional. It’s often helpful to write down a few key phrases and repeat them if the employee asks questions that you can’t answer, for instance, if they keep pleading not to be fired.
Addressing the Personal Aspects of Firing Someone
Unless the employee has been a super disappointment, it usually feels terrible to fire someone. But right now, you need to make the conversation about them, not about you. It’s fine to express your feelings that you wish things had gone differently. But it’s better to ask if they understand what is happening. It’s also better to ask if they understand how to apply for unemployment, or how to get access to their remaining benefits.
You can help someone who you’ve just hired by supplying them with as much information as you can for them to get by until they find another job.
Lastly, make sure if you fire someone from your company that you let your CPA know before your next tax filing.