Sadly, it is sometimes necessary for you as a manager to dismiss a member of your staff. There are really only three reasons to let a staff person go: behavior, performance, and financial reasons. Even if you live in a “right to work” state, there are still lawsuits for wrongful termination being filed in your state every day.
As a former manager in retail and telecommunications, and as a former elected official, I have had the unfortunate duty to fire people. It is possible to tell someone they are fired while being friendly but firm, and keeping the employee’s dignity as intact as you can. Real managers don’t hire George Clooney to fire people, like in the movie Up in the Air; they recognize terminations as an unfortunate part of their managerial responsibilities.
If the reason for termination is financial, be apologetic and show sympathy. If you are able, explain how the decision was reached. This way, the employee may not question their own value as much. If the employee had a stellar performance, writing them a good recommendation letter which makes it clear that he/she was dismissed purely for financial reasons will help that employee move on to another position.
If the reason for termination is performance-related, refer to your employee handbook. It is not just there to protect the employee, but to spell out the corrective procedures for performance issues. Sometimes, the choice is clear-cut (such as, drinking or sleeping on the job, or doing something careless that could harm the employee or others.) More commonly, however, you are dealing with a culmination of performance issues that have happened over a long period of time. Firings of this nature should not come as a surprise to the employee.
Ideally, by the time you get to termination, you have documented the employee’s performance issues. To win a court case for wrongful termination, you need to show that you addressed employee performance and tried to work with them on it, and that firing was the last resort. Did you evaluate this employee regularly in writing, and give the employee a chance to respond in writing? When you noticed an issue with performance, did you document it, address it, follow-up, and document that things were improving or not improving? Did you offer the employee re-training opportunities? Did you have the employee on a performance plan that included specific goals and deadlines? Did he/she fulfill it? These are all questions that need to be considered before you fire someone for performance issues.
If the reason for termination is behavior-based, again, look to your employee handbook for backup. If there has been an offense such as theft which could result in a call to the police, don’t hesitate. These are the cases where security should probably also be included.
When actually having the termination meeting:
1. Have a third party in the meeting as a witness. If any kind of lawsuit results, having it come down to he said/she said can be risky for both parties.
2. Choose words which describe the behavior, or the performance, and not the person. Phrase things in terms of what the company’s requirements are, and what your documentation says.
3. Don’t say you’re sorry (unless it’s a financial reason), say you regret that the situation has come to this. Do wish them the best in their future endeavors, and offer the employee a chance to ask questions.
4. Do schedule an exit interview where the employee has the chance to say their piece about life at your company. They may offer some valuable insights once they have nothing to lose.
5. Remain calm. You never know how a person will react to this news. They may become sad or angry. In these cases, allow a moment before asking that he/she collect themselves. Their response is not going to change the fact that it’s your job to let them go.