Proper Steps To Firing An Employee Legally

Firing Employees

Raise your hand if you set up shop chomping at the bit to show off your growth and success by hiring your very first employee? Anyone? For me, hiring employee number one smashed the achievement barricade I established for my bricks-and-mortar business – and announced to the world that my venture had not only “made it” but was well on its way to becoming a small business success. Months of substantial growth justified hiring my first part-time worker and fresh blood was just what I needed to share the burden of my demanding workload…for a few months, anyway. Whats not so joyful is to let go someone you hired and didn’t meet expectations. By firing an employee legally you avoid many problems that could arise from this situation.

From the start, the prospect of hiring my first employee was a delight. But the joy soon faded as my working relationship with Robert, employee number one, vaporized before my eyes. Initially we considered one another cordial friends, but when Robert’s productivity didn’t match his generous salary, it began to put a strain in my business growth, finances and our working relationship as well. After nine months it was time to let Robert go, but how? When I kicked off my recruiting efforts, my research into hiring practices paid off – I knew exactly how to bring a new employee onboard – but unfortunately, when it came time to letting that same employee go, I had no clue how to turn the tables and set him free into the ranks of the unemployed.

When is the right time to fire an employee?

Firing a co-worker or staff member is an extremely difficult task, no matter what your stake in the decision-making process or execution – albeit if you are the business owner, manager, supervisor or a human resource professional. Unethical or ill thought firing practices can be a casualty of the business world, especially if you do not treat your soon-to-exit employee with respect, professionalism and within legal guidelines.

First, realize that not every new hire will thrive and survive in the position in which he or she was recruited. When an employee continues to be poor performer and chances slim that making a lateral move within the organization is possible (and the grounds of termination are legitimate), firing an employee becomes inevitable. If you must terminate an employee, prepare yourself for the worst, as tempers may flair, and a wrongful termination can result in legal ramifications.

Review Your Company’s Termination Policy

Before you even hire your first employee, an executive within your organization should establish a company-wide termination policy outlining a list of acceptable procedures.

Include the following:

  • Establish guidelines all supervisors or human resource professionals must follow when terminating staff
  • Determine a list of disciplinary procedures that accompany company policy violations
  • Establish counseling programs or options for under-performing employees
  • Outline acceptable grounds or procedures for terminating employees.
  • Using all of the above will ensure that each termination is carried out in the same manner and within the guidelines of your company’s established termination policy.

Gather Documentation in Advance

As soon as an organization realizes an employee must be terminated, provide plenty of time to prepare before the employee meeting. Review the employee’s file, records and documentation, particularly look at disciplinary action notices, pink slips, memos, absentee records, etc. – any information that has influenced your company’s decision to release this employee. When you meet with the worker, don’t read their offenses like a criminal rap sheet, but mention the key instance(s) as grounds for their dismissal. To help avoid a hostile firing, it is very important that you familiarize yourself with the employee, their record, tenure and offenses. The employee should be given the opportunity to respond to the reasons for his or her termination.

Avoid “On the Spot” Firing

While hiring an applicant “on the spot” can be a wonderful experience, firing an employee on the spot can lead to disaster. If a worker’s actions are grounds for an immediate dismissal, remove the employee from the situation and walk away from the experience for a brief period of time to cool off. Remember – you will want to follow your company’s termination protocol. Never fire an employee in the presence of co-workers and staff unless including the testimony of a witness is necessary to the process. Many times it is better to first suspend an employee to allow time for an investigation. If possible, wait a few hours to a few days before letting the employee go, simply because the wait can help bring emotions to a more even keel. Also, be sure to consider your timing as well. Does the employee rely on public transportation to get back and forth to work? Does the employee have a company car? If so, make sure the employee has transportation to leave the building.

Do a Thorough Legal Check

Before you let an employee go, solidify the facts surrounding the dismissal. This means you must confirm that the employee is not being terminated without just cause. If you disciplinary policy requires an employee receive corrective action procedures or progressive discipline procedures before termination, make sure the employee receives such action. Next, determine if the discharge is violates any federal or state laws. Finally, determine whether the employee is in a protected class and if his or her termination violates the law.

Play Offense, Not Defense

Putting a soon-to-be dismissed employee on the defensive is sure to make tempers flare. Try to put yourself in your employee’s shoes by realizing that being fired from work is more than likely a devastating blow to the worker’s personal and financial status. Keep in mind, your firing tactics can damage your company’s reputation by being labeled as cutthroat or ruthless when letting employees go.

Use Appropriate Terminology

The National Institute of Business Management has compiled a list of expressions an employer should avoid using when firing an employee. Here is a list of suggestions you should consider avoiding:

  • “I’m so sorry about this.”
  • “It’s not my decision to fire you. My boss made me do it.”
  • “You know the company is all messed up.”
  • “Let me give you my advice on what you should do next.”
  • “You never really had a chance here.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “You’ve really let me down.”
  • “I hate to say this, but…”
  • “This is a blessing in disguise.”