Fire an Employee Tips

It’s never easy to let go of a worker, especially one who has devoted time and hard work to your company. But the unpleasant reality of running a business is that sometimes, people must be fired. Prolonging the process only leads to further issues that can stunt your company’s growth.

Terminating an employee is complex, and going about it the wrong way may result in an angry former staff member at best, and a hefty lawsuit at worst. Here’s how to go about this difficult process properly, from both a legal and a professional standpoint.

Before the meeting

Firing an employee is never as simple as saying, “You’re fired.” Proper termination is not a rash, spur-of-the-moment decision, but a well-documented process that must prove that you, as the employer, are justified in your actions. Otherwise, you’re inviting the potential for a wrongful termination lawsuit.

“Throughout the entire termination process, HR leaders need to work with the employee’s manager on properly documenting instances of performance and/or behavioral discussions,” said Deb LaMere, vice president of employee engagement at Ceridian, a human capital management technology company. “When it comes to terminating an employee for performance reasons, having those facts documented and vetted by the organization’s legal department or a contracted attorney will not only make the process easier, it will also help validate the reason for terminating the employee, in the first place.”

Employees should not be surprised at a notice of termination. LaMere recommends sharing feedback with employees on a regular basis to ensure you are on the same page.

“Having regular performance discussions — especially when performance needs improving — acts as a warning,” she said. “If managers are not having these types of constant conversations about performance and areas in need of improvement, the employee will be surprised and they may end up feeling that they have been discriminated against and terminated without any kind of valid reason.”

The situation can be a little trickier if an employee is being let go as part of a downsizing initiative. Kathie Caminiti, a partner at labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP, said that documentation is necessary to justify not only the reduction in staff, but how you determined which employees got cut. [See Related Story: Should You Fire That Employee? 4 Questions to Ask]

“With a downsizing or reduction … what is the business justification and what is the selection criteria for the person to be terminated?” Caminiti said. “If you’re letting go of three people, the next question is, why those three people as opposed to [other employees]? That’s where companies get into trouble.”

To make sure you’ve covered your bases, Caminiti advised asking yourself these five important questions when preparing for a termination meeting:

  1. What is the reason for the discharge and what documentation exists to support that decision?
  2. What is the employee’s background and history with the company? (Consider age, gender, protected class under EEOC laws, union versus nonunion, whether employee has made complaints against company, etc.)
  3. Am I treating all other employees the same? (i.e., if the employee is being fired for violation of policy, would any other employee also be fired for the same violation?)
  4. Is this termination achieving business objectives?
  5. Am I following my own employer policies and procedures for discipline?