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How to Fire an Employee: What to Do Before, During, and After Termination

Employees play a massive part in the success of your company. Of course, this also means that a bad employee can also lead to potential inefficiencies and other issues. 

Firing an employee is a difficult reality of running a business. While the situation is unpleasant for everyone involved, there are right and wrong ways to go about the termination process. In fact, there are several steps you need to take before, during, and after you fire an employee. Here’s what you need to know to take the right route during the termination process.

An employee gathering items after being fired by a small business owner. 

What to Do Before You Fire an Employee

Firing an employee is typically more than a one-day process. There are several actions you’ll need to take before you effectively terminate an employee to help protect your business and provide proper feedback. Depending on the employee, some of these steps may even help you improve their performance and save you from severing the relationship.

Distribute an employee handbook

Long before you plan to fire someone, you should make sure that every one of your employees receives an employee handbook. An updated handbook is an official document that makes the following details very clear for your employees:

  • Company philosophy
  • Conditions of employment
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Compensation and benefits

Your employee handbook plays an important dual role for your business. First, it’s a great way for new hires to learn more about the rules, perks, and personality of your business. Second, it’s a compliance tool to make sure that your employees know and understand internal policies and grounds for dismissal. Having these rules in place – along with documentation that your employees have received your handbook – will help protect your business in case a fired employee tries to fight their dismissal in court.

Review past performance reviews and feedback

Before you decide to dismiss an employee, look back to see what type of feedback he or she has received in past reviews. If your employee has only heard good feedback and received raises that correspond with exemplary performance, a dismissal would come as a huge shock. 

Not only do employee performance reviews give you a chance to set goals and expectations for an employee, they can also help protect you against claims if you’ve shared feedback indicating that an employee needed to improve. If there are no negative reviews on record, you may want to wait until you can provide some honest feedback. This way your employee may take the review as an opportunity to improve. If he or she doesn’t, you have evidence that both you and your employee knew of the continued poor performance so that you can back up your decision to terminate an employee.

Document violations and give official warnings

Like performance reviews, it’s important to have a documented history of any warnings or violations for any employee you decide to fire. Once it has become apparent that an employee’s performance is simply not up to standards, call them into a private space and give that person an official warning.

It’s important to make sure that this warning is also in writing. While you explain why you’re unhappy with your employee’s performance, there should also be a printed document that the employee can sign so that you can place it in that person’s personnel file. You can also use a performance improvement plan that lists set goals for an employee to achieve within a set period of time (30 days, 90 days, etc.). Either of these options will make it clear exactly why the employee is at risk of losing his or her job and will help you back up your case as to why they needed to be dismissed.

What to Do On the Day of Termination

After you’ve taken the appropriate steps to give an employee an opportunity to improve and document reasons for dismissal, it’s time to act quickly and terminate the offending team member.

Don’t wait for Friday

While some situations call for immediate dismissals regardless of the day, certain days can be better than others if you can plan ahead. According to The Balance Careers, it’s generally best to try and aim for sometime in the middle of the week to fire an employee, preferably on a Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Firing someone on a Monday can lead to the terminated employee feeling as though you wasted his or her time waiting until a new week has started. Friday dismissals leave the terminated employee to stew about the decision over the weekend. Aiming for the middle of the week can help mitigate bad feelings in an already difficult situation.

Fire employees in person

Firing an employee is already an unpleasant situation – don’t make it worse for the employee by terminating them via phone, email, or some other electronic means. While the experience will likely always be painful, it’s important to be as humane as possible when firing an employee. That approach means giving them the courtesy of hearing the news from you or another appropriate person at your company. 

Not only is a face-to-face firing the right thing to do, it also looks much better than the alternative. Taking a less personal approach can leave a negative impression for other employees when they learn about the dismissal, especially if someone was friends with the terminated employee. As such, a personal approach can lessen the odds of not only bad reactions from terminated employees, but also any concerns from the coworkers they left behind.

However, an in-person approach isn’t necessarily feasible if you need to fire a remote employee. While you may not be able to sit in the same room with these people, it’s still good to break the news face-to-face through some form of video conferencing platform.

Don’t fire employees by yourself

It’s always a good idea to have another person in the room if at all possible. Whether it’s an HR specialist or another employee, a second person serves as a witness. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that your former employee may try and accuse you of an unjust firing. Having an HR professional in the room can help you stay on track during the dismissal process to avoid any potential issues. Even if you don’t have an HR expert available, a second person gives you another person who can attest to your side of the story in case the former employee makes any false claims during your meeting. 

Keep it short and simple

When it’s time to fire someone, it’s best to avoid any small talk and get straight to the point. Tell the person directly that he or she has been terminated. Make it very clear that this decision is final and give very specific feedback as to why you and the company made this decision. 

As you may expect, this isn’t a happy occasion and the fired individual likely won’t take the news well. However, it’s important to listen to what your former employee has to say to get a better read on how he or she takes the news. Whether they’re angry, sad, shocked, or in denial, continue to repeat the message and treat them with respect.

This is also the time to cover next steps and what will happen involving their final pay, benefits, and other details. At this point, you’ll be able to discuss any terms for severance pay, extended healthcare, or other benefits if you choose to offer them. You can also ask the individual to sign a release of liability.

Collect any work-related items

Depending on your business, you may have provided your former employee with equipment ranging from small supplies to extremely expensive items. You’ll want to collect any company property from them before or during the individual’s last day, unless there’s an agreement in place to allow that person to keep certain goods. These items can include:

  • Keys or key cards
  • Laptops
  • Credit card
  • Cell phone, tablet, or other mobile device
  • Company car
  • Miscellaneous office equipment

In addition to physical items, you also need to address passwords, codes, or any other means of company access. If certain doors at your company are unlocked by keycodes or other card or keyless means, change those codes. Likewise, either you or someone else at your company should restrict any user access and change any passwords the dismissed employee may use to access your computer network.

Likewise, your former employee likely has some personal items that he or she will want to take home as well. If you schedule the termination meeting for the end of the day when most of your other employees are gone, the dismissed employee can gather their own possessions without as much fear of embarrassment. Of course, you may want someone there to watch just to ensure that the  employee doesn’t take any company property. You can also ask terminated employees to provide a list of their personal property so that someone else can gather their possessions and return it to them there or someplace outside of work at an arranged time in the future.

Escort them out and end on civil terms 

After both parties have collected all the necessary items and are ready to go, it’s time to wrap up the termination meeting. Personally walk the individual to the exit and wish him or her well in the future. The dismissed individual may not be in the best mood, but it’s good to part ways on a gracious note.

What to Do After You’ve Fired an Employee

While the hardest part of the termination process may be over, your job isn’t quite done. There are still some very important tasks to finish that involve updating everyone else in your team and protecting yourself in case the fired employee decides that the matter isn’t over just yet.

Inform the office

While it may seem easier to not address the departure of an employee, it’s best to be honest to your team. If you don’t say anything, other employees may lose trust in management and start to fear that there are more dismissals in store for the future. Word will quickly spread on it’s own, so you can shape the conversation and get ahead of the gossip with a quick message.

Fortunately, your message to the rest of your company doesn’t need to be long and complicated. Instead simply you’ll want to focus on the following:

  • That the dismissed employee no longer works at your company
  • The transition plan for handling the former employee’s departure
  • That anyone with questions should feel free to speak to you or another relevant person

Avoid saying that the employee was fired. It’s best to just say that the person in question is no longer at the company and shift toward the future. Also, refrain from making any critiques about the former employee. These comments may not sit well for his or her former coworkers, so it’s best to move forward.

It’s also important to determine the right method and timing for sharing this information. If you have a smaller company or the former employee workerd with a close group of associates, an in-person company meeting is best. If your company is larger or the former employee didn’t work as closely with others, a termination email should be enough to suffice. You can also hold an in-person meeting with closer associates and follow up with an company-wide email as well if you want to break the news to a certain group first.

Reassign duties

Part of the transition plan for handling your former employee’s departure involves addressing how that employee’s duties will be handled in the short- and long-term future. This can involve delegating who will pick up the slack until you have a more permanent solution in place. If the employee received regular emails or calls from clients or customers, have those messages forwarded to someone else in the organization.

You also want to be careful about how you split up these duties – you don’t want to make a good worker bitter because she or she has to do the work of two people because of someone else’s dismissal. If you plan to hire someone new or put new processes in place to ease the overall burden of these duties, let your employees know. A bit of transparency will help reassure concerned employees and let them look ahead to the future instead of dwelling on the downsides of the dismissal.

Be prepared for unemployment claims

If the employee didn’t sign some form of liability preventing them from doing so, there’s always a chance that they may file a claim against your business. Unemployment taxes can cost your business thousands of dollars, and a claim against your company may lead to even more financial burden. 

Fortunately, there are ways to protect your business from the claims and unruly taxes. A combination of maintaining good company policies and record keeping can improve your chances of winning unemployment claim cases. It also helps to have a dedicated company like a Professional Employer Organization on your side that can reduce your tax risks and help you fight against unwarranted claims.

Consider a PEO for Employee Performance and Risk Management

The firing process isn’t an enjoyable one, but it helps to have trustworthy, experience HR professionals by your side when you do need to dismiss an employee. Group Management Services can help you manage the entirety of the employee lifecycle, including employee recruiting and trainingperformance management, and unemployment claims management.

Whether you’re dealing with employees, benefits, or payroll, HR management can eat up the majority of your schedule. GMS can help you take your time back while providing your business with professional services that protect and strengthen your business. Contact GMS today to talk to one of our experts about how we can help you support your business.

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