Many managers will quickly agree that firing an employee is the most challenging part of their job. So it is no wonder that managers often forestall the decision to fire problematic employees. Reasons for refusing to take immediate action range from uncertainty about the decision, feelings of guilt, and legal concerns. However, constantly dealing with the problems that incompetent employees create is hardly a better alternative.
Just one bad apple can dampen employee morale, breed resentment, or create a hostile work environment. Firing problematic employees is not only necessary, it is often inevitable. Even so, managers have to contend with blowback from part of the workforce, especially if the employee is well-liked. The staff may also feel uneasy about their own future with the company.
The way you terminate an employee can help alleviate the concerns mentioned above. The process can go smoothly. The best-case scenario is the ex-employee, although disappointed, leaves on good terms and hopeful about the future. The staff also understands that you made the best decision for the team and the organization. All this is possible if you can master how to terminate employees.
Why Does a Proper Employee Firing Procedure Matter?
As you will soon discover, there are best practices for firing an employee. For some, these best practices may seem tedious and unnecessary. After all, firing an employee should be quick and painless—not unlike removing a bandage. But using the wrong procedure to fire employees can expose your company to a host of unforeseen consequences.
What Does Success Look Like?
So how do you know if you have a good termination procedure? There are a few tell-tale signs that can help you see where you fall on the spectrum.
Some employees may be quick to claim wrongful termination. It is rarely the case that an ex-employee will feel that your decision to let them go is justified. Abrupt or inhumane termination can increase the likelihood of ex-employees filing a lawsuit, even if it’s only to settle the score.
Ex-employees are less likely to pursue legal action if the termination process is above reproach. These cases are notoriously difficult for the plaintiff to prove. They’ll need to document evidence that they were fired due to discrimination or otherwise unlawfully. By following proper termination procedures, ex-employees will have little or nothing to use against your company in court.
Improved Employee Morale
Many people know the pain of having to pick up the slack caused by incompetent colleagues. When there are obvious and repeated performance and incompetence issues, rest assured that the team has taken note. Firing such an employee can boost staff morale and demonstrate your commitment to the organization’s goals and values.
The same goes for employees who create a hostile work environment. Behaviors such as bullying, making offensive jokes, and hurling insults and slurs can create resentment among employees. You might find that staff is happy when you fire the offending employee, especially if official complaints were made against the person. The team will be glad someone listened and followed through to make the company culture better.
The reverse is also true. Haphazard termination can dampen employee morale. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter if there are just grounds for terminating the employee. Inhumane, public, or humiliating dismissals can cause you to lose trust with the remaining employees. Worst still, the staff might be demotivated, wondering who will face the ax at the slightest hint of unintentional improper behavior.
Secured Company Property and Trade Secrets
Firing an employee can be draining and emotionally charged. Things like computers, hard drives, cell phones, passwords, keys, and company credit cards can fall through the cracks and be lost forever. Ex-employees can also sabotage company property in retaliation. It is not unheard-of for disgruntled employees to leak sensitive documents or damage company property.
Successful employee firing means that there are proper procedures to retrieve company property. Events such as leaked trade secrets, vandalism, and missing confidential files are sure signs that your employee termination procedure is not adequately organized.
Little or No Disruption
A poorly executed termination will disrupt the workplace. These meetings can lead to tears, arguments, and even shouting or worse. Proper firing causes minimal disruption during the workday. There is a time and a place to fire employees to cause minimal interference to the typical work environment.
You can also look at the long-term implications of the firing. For example, if there is an immediate and obvious knowledge or skill gap, you may need to amend your termination procedure in the future. Conversely, if there is proper and timely succession, you have a solid firing procedure.
Case Study: A Casual Game of CBT Gone Wrong
An automobile repair shop found itself on the receiving end of a sexual harassment lawsuit after terminating an employee for poor performance. To create the context, the all-male mechanic staff at the shop liked to play a juvenile game known internally as CBT. CBT stands for ‘casual ball tap.’ The rules of the game are self-evident in the name.
The game might well have been part of the company culture, as it was known to supervisors. And there had never been any complaints. At least not until the business faced a downturn and had to let some of its mechanics go.
The company terminated its perceived weakest link, whom we’ll call Charlie. Charlie immediately filed a sexual harassment and retaliation claim. He alleged a hostile work environment on account of CBT. He even claimed to have complained to his supervisor, a claim that the supervisor vehemently denied.
The company conducted an internal investigation to substantiate Charlie’s claim. However, there was no evidence that anyone, let alone Charlie, had ever filed a complaint about the game. His colleagues also denied that CBT had created a hostile work environment. It was even determined that Charlie had happily participated in the game many times himself and was not just a victim of it.
Despite all this, the company chose to settle for five figures rather than go to court. This decision was informed by the company’s lack of documented layoff policies and lack of documentation of Charlie’s weak performance, leading to his termination. The fact that the supervisor occasionally took part in CBT certainly didn’t help much.
While this incident may be far removed from the corporate world, its lessons are still very relevant for every business. The first lesson being the importance of ironclad documentation, procedural due process, and consistency when firing employees.
The second lesson is that just because employees don’t complain doesn’t mean that you can’t be subject to a harassment claim. Finally, even a weak harassment claim can create the basis for a legal battle, which you might not want to take your chances with. It is often easier to settle quietly out of court than to go to trial and have it become public record.
One Secret Weapon To Master Your Employee Firing Procedure
No one looks forward to firing employees. However, it is an inevitable business function. Fortunately, there are tools that can help make the process as smooth and as professional as you could hope when letting go of an employee.
Kissflow is a great performance management software to consider integrating into your business. The software won’t help you find the right words to fire an employee, but it can help make the offboarding process professional and seamless.
This software will help you to:
- Maintain accurate records of every contract and policy of former employees
- Use its built-in offboarding checklist to track and retrieve all organizational assets
- Send out automatic security notifications to remind IT personnel to revoke system access of departing employees
This software won’t only help you with terminated employees. You’ll be able to professionally offboard all your employees regardless of their reasons for leaving. For example, Kissflow lets employees deliver their resignations painlessly. You’ll even be able to conduct exit interviews to find out why employees are leaving and gather insights into employee morale.
Additionally, Kissflow allows you to track and manage every aspect of employee performance. Hopefully, its features like custom performance improvement plans, performance action plan templates, and reward and recognition programs will reduce incidents where you need to fire employees in the first place. Or they will at least provide documentation of any employee performance issues.
Kissflow offers three pricing plans. The cheapest plan, the Basic plan, costs $16 per user per month and starts at ten users.
If Kissflow is not the right tool for your business, check out our guide to the best performance software, where we review five great options and offer valuable insights into how performance software can help your business.
5 Essential Strategies For Properly Firing Employees
Nobody wants to be the one to fire an employee. This goes doubly when the employee is otherwise likable. But, there are a few strategies that you can employ to increase the chances that terminating an employee will go smoothly.
1. Provide Fair Warning
There are few things worse than an employee being blindsided by their termination. Even poor performers don’t usually think that they’ll get fired. Offering an employee fair warning also encourages them to improve their performance.
A supervisor or manager should sit down with the employee to discuss the performance issues and give the employee a chance to improve. The discussion should be noted in the employee’s internal file in case you need to prove anything down the line. This type of documentation will help demonstrate the company’s innocence if a suit is brought against them for wrongful termination. It also allows the employee to make necessary changes.
Whenever possible, implement a performance improvement plan. Employee attrition is costly and time-consuming, so you may be saving your company time and money by assisting current employees. Give the employee at least four weeks to improve their performance. Track their performance during this time and decide if it’s worth retaining the employee or if it’s easier to replace them.
Most performance tracking software, including Kissflow, comes with built-in performance improvement plan templates. The software also lets you create custom plans. You’ll also be able to track performance improvement metrics and other indicators right from the software.
However, there are cases where you need to act immediately. Issues such as sexual harassment, theft, fraud, violence, and falsification of records can be grounds for immediate firing.
2. Document Everything
Documentation comes in handy in the event of a lawsuit. This documentation can also dissuade employees from filing wrongful termination claims against your company. Keep a record of specific data and any incidents that support your decision to fire the employee.
Also, ensure that you have realistic goals along with your fair warning. For example, you may ask an employee to improve sales by a certain percentage. Document their performance along with your warning and performance improvement plan.
Even when you are not considering firing an employee, it is crucial to keep detailed records of complaints, performance issues, and any other potential problems. Documentation is always the right decision. It impacts more than just firing—it also can affect promotions, raises, bonuses, etc.
3. Come Up With a Plan
Firing an employee is an emotional time. The employee will be losing their livelihood, their network, and potentially a sense of purpose. It is in everyone’s interest to be well prepared for the meeting.
First, speak to HR about your decision to fire the employee. HR may have crucial information that you might otherwise miss. For example, you might be firing an employee on their wedding anniversary, or their spouse just got diagnosed with cancer. The employee may also have recently filed a complaint with HR. In this case, going ahead with the termination may be construed as retaliation and grounds for a lawsuit.
Secondly, create a detailed plan for where, when, and how you’ll give the employee their notice. For example, you may want to avoid firing an employee on Friday. While it may be convenient for payroll, the employee will have to brood on your decision all weekend. This brooding may result in retaliation and may affect their mental and emotional health.
Firing an employee early in the week allows them to start looking for another job immediately. Similarly, firing an employee early in the workday may cause confusion about what to do with the rest of their workday.
Consult with HR to create an employee termination checklist. This checklist ensures that you don’t miss anything, such as removing employee access and collecting company property. Kissflow HR offers a handy employee offboarding checklist to help you cover all your bases.
4. Have HR in the Termination Meeting
Things can quickly degenerate to he-said/she-said in the event of a lawsuit. Having a witness, preferably someone from HR, can help corroborate your words and actions. It also helps to have someone else present in case the employee threatens retaliation.
The employee will also likely have questions that you might not have the answers to. Issues like what happens with accrued paid time off, when the employee will receive their final paycheck, and what happens to ongoing projects are likely to come up. The HR person is in the best position to answer these questions. Ideally, you should clear everything up during the termination meeting. This way, you can both make a clean break and avoid a drawn-out process.
5. Fire the Employee in Person
It’s tempting to take the easy way out and fire an employee via phone or email. However, this strategy is unprofessional and downright disrespectful. Remember, your previous employees are also your brand ambassadors. In the age of social media, word will quickly get out about how you treat your employees, even the incompetent ones.
Conduct the meeting in a private place such as a conference room. The meeting room should have opaque walls that go all the way to the ceiling and a locking door. Privacy is vital for preserving the employee’s dignity during this difficult time in their professional life.
Get right to the point and be straightforward about why you are terminating the employee. There is no need to go through every single thing that the employee has ever done wrong, but do not beat around the bush. Don’t try to “work up” to it.
A few clear sentences about your reasons for the termination will be sufficient. Be firm, and state that your decision is final and irrevocable.
Resist the urge to tell the employee you regret the decision. This can mislead the employee into thinking that they can convince you to change your mind. Thank the employee for their service and offer some genuine positive feedback about their contribution to the organization. Try as much as possible to end the meeting on a positive note.
If you feel you can, let the employee know if you will provide a positive reference in the future. This is obviously very dependent on the situation and why they were terminated.
Most Common Mistakes When Firing an Employee
Terminating an employee is never easy. But with time, you’ll develop processes to help make the ordeal easier. Here are a few mistakes to avoid when firing an employee:
Making emotional decisions: Your decision to fire an employee should be factual and provable. This is the best way to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Allowing access to the work area: It is expected that the employee will be visibly upset after getting fired. Allowing them access to their coworkers or their work area can disrupt workflow and dampen morale. Arrange with ex-employees to pick up their personal belongings after the workday or during the weekend. Alternatively, you can offer to send their possessions to their home.
Not getting straight to the point: Employers often have to fire people they genuinely care about. Still, starting with niceties can mislead the employee about the real reason for the meeting. Instead, get straight to the point and avoid arguments. Reiterate to the employee that you have already discussed their performance issues if they try to draw you into an argument.
Lying about the reason for termination: Again, you might think it is polite to sugarcoat the real reason for firing an employee. If the employee decides to file a lawsuit, a discrepancy in the grounds for the termination can work against you in court.
Delaying the inevitable: You should be quick to act once you decide that an employee needs to go. Delaying the inevitable will only cause problems down the line, including unnecessary budget overruns, missed deadlines, or lost clients. It also sends the wrong message to your top performers. They might think that your organization doesn’t value competence.
Delegating the dirty work: Leaders are expected to make tough decisions. Outsourcing the dirty work to HR can create resentment between the ex-employee and the person elected to do the firing. And outsourcing may lead the entire organization may think that you cannot handle challenging problems.
While firing an employee is something you can’t get used to, it does get easier. It is also worth reflecting on how each termination meeting goes. This way, you can pick up dos and don’ts for the next time you need to fire an employee.