The Ultimate Guide for Firing an Employee
Karen Young sat down with a client and their employee, who was being let go that day. It was early on a Monday, before the majority of the office staff trickled into work.
Young, president and founder of HR Resolutions, and her client, sat down with the employee to inform her she was being let go.
Upon hearing the news, the employee asked: “Can I say something in my defense?” Young responded, “Absolutely, but what you say will not change our decision.”
Despite the awkwardness, Young thankfully had the skills and knowledge to respond adequately, which every shop owner must possess.
“I wish I didn’t have to [fire anyone] but it does happen,” Young says. “Everyone likes to think if you have an effective coaching and counseling approach in place as a manager that it won’t happen, but sometimes an individual chooses to leave on his or her own.”
Young has spent nearly 15 years advising clients on human resource solutions. And, during that time, she has helped terminate employees every couple months.
Before starting her own business in 2005, she was let go from her corporate role. “Was it horrible when it happened? Yes.” she says.
But, she also says she wouldn’t be in the position she is in now—running her own human resource training and education advising business—without that painful experience.
If handled properly, the firing process can leave departing employees with an understanding of why the termination took place, and leave them with time to start working on their next career move that very same day, Young says.
That said, shop operators need to take careful steps when letting an employee go, like those listed below.
Phase One: How to Warn an Employee
1.1. Take disciplinary action.
An employee needs to be aware of deficiencies in his or her work performance before the shop operator looks into terminating them, Young says.
If someone isn’t meeting expectations of the job role, then the owner should give that employee at least 90 days notice and time to improve, she says.
During those 90 days, the manager should give that person feedback on their job, and coach and counsel them.
A shop owner needs to document if the employee was given notice of the performance issue. Managers should say something if they see someone doing something wrong, Young says. Even a simple email that says the issue was noticed and how it doesn’t fit the requirements of the role can act as documentation for regulatory agencies at a later date.
1.2 Be honest with the employee.
If there’s an issue in the work performed or the behavior of the employee, it’s best for the owner to be honest with that employee. This is not the time to sugarcoat or protect his or her feelings on how he or she is doing in the role, Young says. Maybe it’s a learning situation that the individual needed to hear to grow professionally.
Phase Two: How to Determine Timing
2.1. Choose a day of the week.
The old school policy is to never fire someone on a Friday. The end of the week is not an ideal time, Young says, because an individual only has a long period of time to worry about the decision and fret about it for 48 hours. They can’t do anything to help themselves.
She suggests choosing a day early in the week and, once the decision is made, to move forward.
2.2. Analyze the employee’s job role.
Take time to think about whether the employee has a huge project on which he or she is working. Maybe he or she is working on a $500,000 sale and that would be a critical loss to the business, Young notes. In that case, document when it’s decided to let the employee go and then wait until after that event.
2.3. Choose a time of day.
The next step is to pick a time to do the meeting. Choose a time of day that is the most quiet for the business. It’s important to pick a time that will disrupt work the least and is the least embarrassing for the individual, Young explains.
Phase Three: How to Prevent a Legal Issue
3.1. Reflect on the reason for the termination.
Reflect on if there’s any reason, whatsoever, that a soon-to-be fired employee might believe he or she is being discriminated against, Young says.
When it comes to the legal aspect of firing someone, anyone over the age of 40 years old is protected, Young notes, so it’s important that documentation shows the termination was from performance and not age.
There are also protections, depending on state and region, on gender orientation, secxual orientation, race, color and more to research before a firing.
3.2. Know when to call an attorney.
It’s foolish to not call a lawyer and pay them for their time and counsel when it could save thousands of dollars in legal fees down the line, Young says.
Even if there’s the slightest possibility that the employee is being discriminated against, it never hurts to call a lawyer and ask for their advice on how to proceed.
Phase Four: How to Tell an Employee
4.1. Decide who will speak.
Even if a human resources representative is there in the meeting, the employee’s direct manager should always be the one to deliver the notice.
A witness should be present for the meeting, Young suggests, but that witness should not do the talking. Ultimately, the words, “I’m letting you go” or, “You’re fired,” need to come from the management.
4.2. Use empathetic language.
“It’s OK to empathetic, but the minute the owner says, ‘I’m sorry,’ the employee can infer the management does not like the idea,” Young says. “Recognize the employee’s emotions.
“Instead, use a phrase like, ‘I can certainly understand this is upsetting for you.’”
4.3. Keep the meeting short.
The meeting should always be as short and sweet as possible. For instance, a meeting that is 45 minutes or longer is too long, in Young’s opinion. Once the decision is made, it’s all about moving forward, she says.
Phase Five: How to Inform Your Staff
5.1 Be consistent in the message.
Following a firing, the rest of the staff should be told at the same time and in the same way.
For example, an email can be sent that says, “The executive team wants you to know that the employee is no longer with the company and we wish them all the best.”
5.2 Focus on respect.
The public announcement needs to be as private as possible, Young says.
“There might be cases where the management needs to ask another team member to take over responsibilities until another employee can be hired, but the management’s goal should be to respect the individual's dignity as much as possible,” she adds. “Do not gossip.
“Let staff know they can come to management if they have questions. The owner is always able to say, ‘I can’t share that information with you. I’m sure you understand.’”
5.3 Teach how to inform customers.
Remember to inform the customer service representatives of firings, Young says. Coach them on how to handle customer questions. Staff should know who to direct calls to if the employee handled incoming calls, as well as what to say when a customer asks for that employee.
“Usually someone on the phone can say, ‘I’m not really sure. Let me get my boss who can help you,’” Young explains.