Learn how to fire someone without getting sued

Learn how to fire someone without getting sued

Break-ups are hard. Whether it be a personal or an employer/employee relationship, it’s rare that someone likes the process of giving someone else “the boot.” So often these hard conversations are put off, hoping that someone or something will change so we don’t have to do them. But when that change doesn’t come, it’s time for a tough conversation.

Just because a conversation is hard doesn’t mean it must be awkward. Some work on the front end can eliminate a lot of drama and hurt feelings on the back end. Here are 10 things you can do to make the next termination you conduct go a lot easier, for yourself and the person being terminated:

Check their past feedback

If their manager has consistently given this person good or great reviews, a termination is now going to look pretty fishy. And if everything in the employee’s file looks stellar, it’s pretty clear No. 2 hasn’t happened.

Let the employee know there’s a problem. Use progressive discipline.

No one should walk into that room, with their boss and HR waiting, and not know what’s going to be discussed. It’s also unfair to blindside someone who didn’t know their performance was under par and who has not been given a chance to correct it. Waiting too long to start the termination process makes things worse and can affect the remaining team’s trust in leadership.

Document, document, document

Verbal warnings need to be followed up with an email documenting the conversation, but written warnings and formal performance reviews that the employee has signed and dated offer you as a manager and the company the most protection.

Give them a chance to improve

This is not a “do more of XYZ” conversation. This is letting that person know what behaviors are unacceptable and giving them an actionable, realistic plan to get back on track. Give them time. Thirty days is usual, and you can always give more. In that 30 days, have regular meetings to ensure they are going in the right direction. Don’t go MIA or wait for the employee to come to you.

Don’t fire on Friday

You’ve now just given the terminated person a whole weekend to stew. By firing early in the week, the person can tap into their network, get help on their resume and have more resources available to them to get started on their job search immediately.

Finish it

When you are terminating someone, say they are being terminated and that it is for cause (because it will be, if you followed steps 1-4). Don’t use euphemisms or drag it out with small talk. Explain how their benefits will work now that they are no longer with the company, any severance pay or other benefits (like outplacement services) they will be receiving and what you will say if anyone calls for a reference.

No lingering

Let the employee know they need to leave immediately, give them a chance to grab their stuff and walk them out. Before lunch is a good time, as most offices will be empty and it may save the employee some embarrassment.

Don’t try to block communication

With smart phones and social media, everyone has ways to stay in touch. And most likely they will. Trying to stop current employees from talking to former employees will only make you look like you have something to hide and degrade trust with your team.

Know the law

Is this employee protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Family Medical Leave Act? Will this termination look like a retaliation? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, talk to HR or an employment attorney. It can also be much cheaper to not fight unemployment.

Taking away income is a fast way to make someone angry, and angry people sue.

Reinforce the team

Anytime someone is terminated, it affects the team. Show appreciation, give recognition for accomplishments and emphasize good work habits. But don’t be afraid to correct poor performance to avoid rocking the boat, as this could make the case for unfair treatment of the terminated employee. Consistency is key.

Terminating an underperforming employee is never fun, but when it has to be done, do it right. It’ll save you a lot of trouble later.

Dixie Agostino is founder and CEO of Switchgear Recruiting

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