8 tips for firing an employee without fireworks

you're fired baby One of the many challenges of running a successful small business is the occasional need to let somebody go. After all, regardless of how carefully you vet potential employees, over time, it is practically impossible to prevent, at the very least, one bad hire from being made.

And when you find yourself in that position, a termination is the only logical step forward. The alternative is to keep working with somebody who isn’t a good fit for your company. The reality is, that isn’t actually going to benefit either of you.

Should you find yourself facing the challenging task of telling somebody to clean out their desk, here are eight tips for firing someone and making the conversation go as smoothly as possible.

1. Legal Matters

Arguably the most important thing to remember when letting somebody go is that there are a number of laws, both state and federal, that need to be complied with. If you’re even remotely worried about legal recourse, seek legal advice before doing anything. The three easiest ways to protect yourself from legal action are:

  • Create as much paperwork as possible documenting the particular employee’s shortcomings.
  • Have at least one witness present when discussing the termination.
  • Remain professional at all times during the discussion.

2. Keep it Brief

A termination should be both short and professional. Before you speak to the employee in question, write down exactly what you plan on saying. Then, invite them into your office and get right to the point. Avoid the temptation to make small talk. Explain in no uncertain terms why you are letting them go and wish them luck in the future.

3. Prepare Yourself Emotionally

Everyone knows that getting fired is an emotional event. What many people fail to realize however is that the act of firing someone can also be somewhat emotionally taxing. It’s therefore important for you to prepare yourself for this. Make a list of everything that the employee might say or do. And resolve to stay calm regardless.

4. No Surprises

Arguably the most painful aspect of being fired is the shock factor. One minute you have a job and the next you don’t. One minute you have a monthly pay check and the next you don’t. You can greatly reduce the shock factor by letting the employee know well in advance that they are skating on thin ice. Ideally, when you invite them into your office, they should already know what you’re going to say.

5. Give Them a Chance to Change

When letting the employee know that they’re on shaky ground, aim to be as clear as possible about exactly what the problem is. There are three reasons for doing so:

  • It’s unlikely, but the problem may resolve itself without a termination.
  • The termination will be better received if the employee feels that he/she was in fact given the chance to turn things around.
  • The termination will be better received by the rest of your employees for the same reason.

6. Don’t Apologize

Contrary to popular belief, apologies and terminations do not go well together. First off, if you were that sorry, you wouldn’t be terminating them. And secondly, if somebody isn’t pulling their weight, you have every right to fire them. In other words, you could say that they are the ones that should be apologizing to you.

7. Explain Your Decision

Don’t underestimate the effect that a termination can have on the rest of your employees. A termination should therefore always be followed by a staff meeting in which you explain the exact reasoning behind your decision. Terminations naturally lead to employees worrying that they might be next. If this isn’t the case, make sure that you clearly explain that fact.

8. Get on With It

Finally, if you know that somebody isn’t a good long term fit for your business, delaying the inevitable is pointless. Nobody likes firing someone but is keeping them around for another month or two really going to benefit either of you? Every month that you keep them on is a month that they could be looking for another job. It’s also a month that you’re paying somebody who’s hurting rather than helping your business.

Have you ever laid an employee off? Would you add any other tips to the list?

==== Greg Fisher

Today’s featured writer, Gregory Fisher, is the CEO and Founder of Berkeley Sourcing Group. He often provides useful suggestions on running a successful small business. When he is not busy working, he enjoys reading books or playing a good game of chess with his friends.

Photo credit: APM Alex


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