By Jenna Cyprus
As a manager, there are a lot of fun and exciting things you get to do. However, firing an employee isn’t one of them.
No matter how terrible an employee has been, no manager (hopefully) enjoys telling an employee that it’s time to move on. That person has bills to pay, a family to support, and a career to build.
Sometimes, though, there’s no other way around it. Whether it’s due to performance, legal issues, or downsizing, firing an employee is something every manager will have to do once or twice in their career.
Avoid These Mistakes
You don’t necessarily want to get good at firing people, but there is a certain art form involved. Firing someone in the wrong manner can not only be cruel and embarrassing, but it could also land your company in legal trouble.
Before giving an employee the old Donald Trump “you’re fired!” line, make sure you brush up on how to properly do it. Specifically, you’ll want to avoid the following mistakes.
1. Don’t Fire Without Warning
Nobody likes to be fired, but few things are more infuriating than being fired without a heads up that something is coming. If the termination is based on poor performance, you should always provide the employee with a couple of weeks or months to improve.
If the company is downsizing and the employee is on the short list of employees to cut, it’s also smart to give them as much warning as possible.
Not only is firing without warning borderline unethical, but it makes it harder on you. You have to blindside them with the decision and will likely deal with the aftermath of heightened emotions.
2. Don’t Do it Illegally
You need to be very careful with the legalities surrounding a termination. The vast majority of employees in the US work “at will.” This means you can fire them at any time or for any reason, as long as it isn’t illegal.
By law, there are six major categories for illegally firing someone. They are: discrimination, retaliation, refusal to take a lie detector test, alien status, complaints about OSHA violations, and violations of public policy.
“Despite following these guidelines, you might still fear being sued for wrongful termination after you let an employee go,” attorney Sachi Barreiro acknowledges. “You can protect yourself by asking that employee to sign a ‘release,’ or agreement not to sue.”
3. Don’t Do it Alone
While you can technically fire someone alone in your office, it’s never smart to terminate an employee without at least one witness present. Employees file wrongful termination suits all the time and you can get caught in a compromising position if you don’t have someone to confirm the truth.
In most companies, it’s wise to include an HR staff person in the meeting. These people tend to have experience with firing and can ensure the conversation stays on track.
4. Don’t Get Into an Argument
Some employees will sit back and silently accept the termination; others are a bit more confrontational and will try to argue. “Never let yourself be dragged into a back-and-forth discussion,” entrepreneur Jeff Haden advises. “Just say, ‘Mark, we can talk about this as long as you like, but you should understand that nothing we discuss will change the decision.’ Arguments almost always make the employee feel worse.”
If an employee disregards your suggestion and starts to vent, the best thing you can do is silently listen for a few minutes. Saying things like “you’re right” or “this is hard for me, too” will only further infuriate an already frustrated person.
5. Don’t Leave the Former Employee Unattended
As soon as an employee is fired and your meeting comes to an end, that individual now becomes a “former” employee. It’s unwise to leave them unattended, even if they’re simply cleaning up their office and gathering belongings.
Recently fired employees will often make rash decisions that could include destruction of company property, angry outbursts, or taking company property. It’s best to send an HR staff member with the fired employee until they’re escorted out of the building.
Don’t Take a Firing Lightly
Deciding to fire someone isn’t something you should do as part of a power trip or an angry outburst. Firing an employee is a serious decision that comes with serious consequences.
Not only do you need to have a plan in place for how you’ll handle things, but you also need to be sure that you don’t make any mistakes.
While it’s nearly impossible to remove the tension and awkwardness from a firing situation, you can ensure the termination goes as smoothly as possible by heeding the advice in this article and doing everything within your power to be a mature and poised leader.
Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.