Firing an employee as a small business owner or manager can be very stressful. Follow these tips from a seasoned human resources professional and manager to ensure you make the right decision about firing an employee, and stay professional while you’re actually doing the firing:
1. Deal with the facts. When someone makes a complaint against another employee, or if you know first-hand of performance problems, look into it. Ask a few people who may have seen or heard something. If it’s dealing with work product, research the employee’s work to see if it’s a pattern of poor performances.
2. Confirm that the employee knew it was wrong. Is it in your employee handbook? Did you warn the employee about it before? Is it just common sense (i.e. don’t steal)?
3. You may decide to issue a warning. Unless it is a huge offense, often called “gross misconduct,” you may decide not to fire the employee yet. If it’s a small infraction, issue the employee a written warning and make sure to include these words “failure to show immediate and sustained improvement may result in further corrective action up to, and including, termination of employment.” Those words are worth their weight in gold when it comes time to actually fire the employee.
4. Gather witness statements. If there are witnesses to the employee’s poor performance, ask them to write up what they observed and provide you with a signed statement. Company email works okay, too. It is very important that you don’t feed the witnesses any information about what you think happened. Just ask them to write what they observed first-hand. After you have the witness statements, talk with the employee. Ask her/him about the incident and consider their side of the story. If the employee says she/he has documentation, give them no more than three days to produce it and document that you are providing them with reasonable time to produce supporting documentation.
5. Decision to fire. If you do move forward with firing the employee, you will need to document the events leading up to the termination of employment. It’s highly likely that the employee will file for unemployment, and you will need documentation to support your side of the story. Additionally, if you are sued or receive an EEOC complaint for wrongful termination, you will definitely need to have all your paperwork in order to support your decision.
6. Plan the termination well. It’s better to terminate employment when the office isn’t really busy, so choose a time that works for you. It’s typically better to do it at the end of the day, because firing someone is an emotional and disruptive event in your workplace. By firing at the end of the day, the remaining employees have time at home to process your decision and talk about it with their friends/family, which will allow them to be more focused the next day at work. When you have the discussion with the employee, do it in a closed door office with a witness, preferably a manager, but never a peer to the employee being fired. When you go get the employee, simply say “Could you come to my office please? I need to speak with you.” Do not get into a big discussion out on the shop floor. Wait for the employee to follow you back to your office. Some experts even say it’s best to have the employee walk in front of you to control the message they send to people they walk past on the way to your office.
7. Get your paperwork ready. Make sure you have everything printed out and ready on your desk prior to calling the employee into your office. You should have a document that goes over the reason for firing (i.e. your employment is being ended to attendance/poor performance/gross misconduct) and site how the employee knew her/his actions were wrong (prior discussions, employee handbook, etc.).
8. Write a bullet point outline. This is where people get into real trouble when firing someone. Stick to this outline and do not deviate: [Employee name], I called you in to discuss your performance with you. We have discussed the struggle you have had performing [job task] well several times, and I am still not seeing the kind of improvement the company needs. At this time, we are ending your employment with [Company name], effective immediately. I have some paperwork for you to sign, and then you and I will gather your personal items from your desk and I will escort you out of the building. If the employee refuses to sign the paperwork, (which should only be an acknowledgment that she/he was provided with a copy of the paperwork, not that she/he agrees to it), simply write “employee refused to sign” and date the document.
9. Stick to the point. The employee may want to argue the point or ask for more time to provide additional evidence to support their employment being continued. Simply say that the decision has already been made (unless you really feel that you do need to review their info. If so, give them no more than one day to put it together, and you will likely want to suspend them so they are not doing damage to your team, office or customer base by being at work after they are nearly certain they’re getting fired.)
10. Be nice. Regardless of why the employee is being fired, or what the employee says to you, be nice. Keep it professional and compassionate. The employee made the decision to act poorly. However; there is no reason to be unkind or overly emotional. You will feel much better about yourself if you stay nice during the firing process.
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