Letting Employees Go

Dec 22, 2011 | Employees

This is certainly not an enjoyable thing to do. However, circumstances often dictate that an employee must be terminated. The reasons may include: poor job performance, going against established personnel policies, being a danger to oneself or others, a layoff (due to lack of work or money). No matter what, letting an employee go is no easy task. Take into consideration some of our words of wisdom before making the cut.

Follow Your Personnel Policies

The job of letting an employee go is made infinitely easier if your personnel policies are clearly established, were given to the employee, and he or she signed off on them. Inside every good personnel manual are the procedures for termination. For more information on creating these policies, click here.

Make Sure to Document Everything

If you do not have personnel policies that deal with termination (and even if you do), it’s important to have a just cause for letting your employee go. There may be some legal ramifications to your decision and so it is important to have documentation to back up your case. Be sure to write down why you are not happy with the employee from the moment you notice poor performance. This information may be found in the employee’s reviews or in other written documents. The point is to write down your observations in a clear and detailed way.

Before you can terminate someone’s employment, you must make sure that you have followed some steps. Have you told your employee that you are not happy with his/her performance? Normally, a verbal warning and a written warning precede termination. If these have been given, be sure that you have documented them with date of warning and the response given by the employee. When giving a warning, be specific in identifying the behavior to be corrected, ways that the employee can rectify the situation, and a timeline by which you would like to see results. Let the person know that termination will follow an unheeded written warning. Have the employee sign the written warning or document their unwillingness to do so.

The Termination Process

If the behavior has not changed after a written warning to the employee and a sufficient amount of time for change to take place, you have no other choice but to conduct a termination meeting. Do not do this spontaneously or it could backfire in your face. Be sure to prepare the the termination meeting by reviewing your documentation and being clear about what will happen next. Do you want the employee to leave immediately? Will they work the rest of the week? Will you give this person a reference for future employment? How will accrued vacation, sick, personal time be handled? Will you pay unemployment compensation to the employee? (In most cases, paying these costs is mandatory. Check with your state’s unemployment office for more information). Knowing the answers to these questions will help you when they are asked by the employee during the termination meeting.

Handling The Repercussions

When someone’s employment is terminated, you are never quite sure of the effects that may result. The employee may react in an emotional way and you must be prepared to deal with it. If he or she cries, what will you do? It’s important to allow the person this time to react but do not apologize. What happens if the terminated employee yells at you or becomes violent? The best thing to do is to remain calm and make it clear that the behavior will not be tolerated. It is always a good idea to have someone else in the room with you during the termination process. What if the employee threatens legal action? Know that this reaction is normal. Do not respond in a way that provokes the person or shows fear. If you believe the threat to be genuine, consult your attorney after the meeting. As always, document everything that occurs during the termination meeting (even if it goes smoothly).

You will also need to communicate the employee termination to your other employees. Be direct but do not go into specifics. Remember confidentiality. Provide instruction to other employees on how they should proceed without the terminated employee, especially if they have been working as a team. Offer your support and assistance during the transition.

Exiting Out

It’s hard and uncomfortable, but try to see that this can be a growing experience for you, your employees, and your business. It may open the pathways to positive communication that have previously been blocked.

In addition to the termination meeting, you should also make arrangements for an exit interview. If you are the one who terminated the employee, it is not recommended that you conduct the exit interview. It would be impossible to have an objective outcome under these circumstances. Ask a co-worker or a member of your advisory board to conduct the exit interview in this instance. If there is no one available to do this, consider a written survey that can be completed and mailed back to you. Be sure to emphasize that the content of the interview is confidential. The exit interview is an essential step to all termination situations (even voluntary ones). During the exit interview, the employee is asked their opinion about the work situation, the management, the policies, and why they were asked (or have chosen) to leave. Document the date, time, and outcome of the exit interview.

The exit interview is not the time to defend the company. It is a chance to listen and to document facts that will help your business grow. If issues are brought up by an exiting employee that you have been unaware of, you can bring them before the rest of your staff for discussion. This is called “growing pains.” It is hard to do this type of exploration because you may learn that other employees have been unhappy or have felt slighted by your management style. In the end, this type of honest communication will pay off with a hard-working, motivated, and committed staff.