The prospect of firing someone can make even the most seasoned managers a little queasy. And for good reason: Employee termination is an emotional minefield that can explode into legal ramifications if mishandled.
Keeping an employee who doesn’t meet expectations and can’t get along with coworkers costs your business more than just profit, said management consultant Susan Heathfield, who writes for the HR section of About.com.
“It affects the morale and motivation of the contributing employees,” Heathfield said. “Other employees who depend on their output don’t get their jobs done.”
If you’ve talked at length with an employee about performance and he or she still can’t do the job, it’s time to let that person go. Follow these seven tips for properly firing an employee.
1. Document everything.
Make sure there’s a paper trail outlining reasons for an employee’s termination. The worker’s personnel file should contain all written warnings and performance evaluations, along with notes of discussions with the employee about performance or conduct.
It’s a good idea to put in place a signed “at will” employment agreement, allowing both the employer and the employee to sever ties at any time. “I like to make sure there are plenty of agreements up front,” said Carol Mixon-Krendl, president of Skilcheck Services, a self-storage consulting firm.
2. Establish a process for independent review.
If you work for a large company, your HR department can review terminations. Smaller operators can hire an attorney, especially if the person being fired has threatened to sue or falls under protected employment categories, said Mark Saxon, an employment attorney and partner at law firm Gordon & Rees.
The reviewer should examine all the facts and be able to conclude that the employee was informed of performance or conduct problems, given adequate time to improve, and provided a fair and honest reason for termination.
3. Stay on point.
Inform the employee of the reasons for termination and allow reasonable questions, but avoid in-depth details or a debate about whether the termination will proceed.
“The supervisor must be firm in stating that the decision is final,” Saxon said.
Avoid an apologetic tone, which could be perceived later as a sign of guilt, uncertainty or wrongdoing on the employer’s part.
4. Keep things civil.
A manager who’s furious with the employee shouldn’t be the one doing the firing, Mixon-Krendl said. “You really need to be calm,” she said.
Don’t let things escalate into a shouting match. Instead, use dispassionate statements like this one: “We’re going to move on and try someone else, and this will be better for everyone.”
5. Allow emotions to cool.
It’s a rare employee who won’t be shaken by losing a stable income and being told he or she isn’t good enough. Even though someone likely has been informed several times about performance issues, the moment of termination is emotional.
“If I see someone is crying or upset, I ask them if they need to take a few minutes and regroup,” Mixon-Krendl said.
She’ll offer the person a chance to leave the office and calm down by taking a short walk. “Even if someone is angry, they might want to take a minute and think about it,” she said.
6. Complete a termination checklist.
Before you let the employee leave, count petty cash, obtain computer passwords and find out whether the worker has items in storage units, Mixon-Krendl said. “They never get their check until I’m done with that checklist,” she said.
Some state laws require that if you fire someone in the morning, you need to pay that person for at least four hours. Others call for payment immediately upon termination. Mixon-Krendl likes to wrap up the final paycheck on the final day: “You let them go. Just pay them.”
7. Show some compassion.
“There has to be some sort of empathy,” Mixon-Krendl said.
For example, when a storage owner fires a resident manager, “they’re losing their home, they’re losing everything,” she said.
Mixon-Krendl offers departing resident managers a financial incentive to move out early. She’ll also help secure a rented moving truck if it’s needed.
“I try to be nice and not get into any argument,” she said. “I just tell them, ‘We made a decision, and this is what it is.’”