You’re Fired!: Dos and Don’ts for Discharging Employees

Dos

  1. Document the employee’s performance, discipline problems, absenteeism, and other relevant criteria.  Maintain up-to-date performance evaluations, evidence of progressive discipline (such as written warnings and suspensions), payroll records, time cards or other work records, and have these items on file before the termination notice is given.
  2. If an employee’s poor performance or disciplinary infractions is threatening his or her job, be sure to warn the employee specifically that a failure to improve will result in termination. The risk of termination should be specified in the final warning to the employee before an actual termination takes place.
  3. Time and Place. Plan exactly where the termination will take place. Select an office to deliver the news. Choose a day early in the week.
  4. Interested Parties. Determine who will participate in the process.  Generally, the manager is accompanied by a human resources (HR) representative or other manager when the termination notice is delivered to the employee.
  5. Keep it Short. State that the employee is being terminated based on performance or discipline, as the case may be. Do not recite a lengthy history of the employee’s work experience; do not offer apologies or make excuses; do not defer responsibility for the decision to anybody else.
  6. Moderate Emotion. Avoid the stone-face, but avoid heavy emotion as well. Try to deliver the news in a caring, human way – neither robotically, nor overly sympathetic.
  7. Solicit Input. Ask the employee if her or she would like to say anything.  Encourage feedback, but do not engage in a dialogue with the employee.
  8. Positive Feedback. Express confidence that the employee will succeed in future career pursuits, or that he or she may find a “better fir” with another organization.
  9. Cutoff Process. Establish a method for ending the meeting do that it does not turn into a protracted conversation with the employee.  For example, the meeting may start with everybody sitting down.  When it’s time to end the meeting, the firing manager can rise, shake the employee’s hand, and wish him or her well. Or, the firing manager can direct the employee to follow the HR representative to another office to receive a final paycheck and insurance documents.
  10. Paychecks. Be prepared to give the employee his final paycheck or other outstanding amounts due.  Prompt payment may discourage ill will by the employee, and will prevent the need for further interaction between employer and employee.
  11. Collect Property. Recover badges, keys, customer lists, and other proprietary materials. Take possession of laptops, company cars, and other property belonging to the employer. De-activate security codes, access numbers, and passwords.
  12. Offer Outplacement. If the company provides outplacement services or counseling, be sure to offer it. If nothing else, HR officials should provide materials on job-seeking opportunities, procedures, and contacts.

DON’Ts

  1. Fire in Public. Do not embarrass the employee by firing in the presence of co-workers. Be mindful of the employee’s privacy concerns. 
  2. Fire in Reaction. Do not discharge an employee in the middle of a quarrel or in the midst of a confrontation. Terminations should always be planned, if even quickly, but never spontaneously announced as a hotheaded reaction to an employee’s misbehavior.
  3. Negotiate. Do not allow the meeting with the employee to turn into a negotiation, or a long-winded explanation of conduct by the employee.
  4. Emphasize Power. Do not use the termination an opportunity to emphasize the manager’s power or authority, or to underscore the employee’s position of subordination. Treat the employee with dignity and professionalism.
  5. Do not say that you’re sorry for having to terminate the employee. Do not offer up other explanations or make risky statements to cushion the impact, such as “If it were up to me, I would give you another chance, but the management here sees it differently.”
  6. Allow Lingering. Do not allow the disenfranchised employee to linger after receiving the bad news. The employee should be escorted from the building or monitored while packing belongings. Computer access should be restricted or strictly monitored.
  7. Leave Gates Unlocked. Do not forget to shut down the employee’s remote access to the computer system. To the extent possible, cut off the employee’s access to customers and clients, to trade secrets, and to other proprietary information.
  8. Forget About Co-Workers. Do not forget to advise co-workers of the employee’s termination as soon as practicable after the employee has left the premises. Assure them that further terminations are not being contemplated. Remaining silent about the discharged employee arouses suspicion and rumor-mongering, and allows ill will and uncertainty to fester.
  9. Forget about Clients. Do not forget to intervene promptly to contact important customers and clients. Customer accounts should be secured and re-assigned immediately, and the company should introduce its new representative to the customers quickly and professionally.
  10. Forget about Benefits. Do not forget to advise the employee before he or she leaves the premises (or shortly after the termination) about eligibility for BOBRA health insurance continuation benefits, retirement benefits, and other such programs. Final paychecks and outstanding paid time off should be remitted to the employee right away upon discharge.
  11. Stop Documenting. Do not close the employee’s file yet. Be sure to document exactly how the termination meeting unfolded. Document who was present, what was said by all parties, the start and finish times, and all other relevant aspects of the meeting. Document that the employee received the final paycheck and HR-generated documents.
  12. Ignore Information. Do not ignore what the employee says when given an opportunity to respond to the termination notice. Do not ignore other information or scuttlebutt that often circulates in the immediate aftermath of an employee’s discharge. Evaluate the quality, consistency, and reliability of any information, and share it with legal counsel if genuine legal concerns are raised.

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