Letting someone go from your business because they are not living up to expectations or have done something completely unethical and inexcusable can be a stressful scenario in terms of how you think it should go and how it really goes.
No one enjoys the experience, but you can take some of the stress and awkwardness out of firing someone by learning the right way to approach it. You don't want these types of situations to get in the way of the passion you feel for your business.
By firing someone the right way, you’ll avoid any legal issues while also minimizing the pain that is involved in handling one of the most difficult situations you will have as a business owner or manager:
Don’t procrastinate—but don’t rush to get it over with
While you don’t want to drag your feet just because you dread what is an inevitable action you must take, you also don’t want to hurry through it just to get it over with. Either way, the act of firing will come off in the worst way possible.
You may have worked closely with this person for a while and the idea of now telling them you won’t be giving them a paycheck anymore is tough. The fact is you aren’t doing them or yourself any favors by waiting longer to relay the news. When you have thought it through and have the necessary documentation and word choice in mind, it’s time to get it over with so they—and you—can start the process of separating and moving on.
Confer with HR or seek legal advice
If you are a small business, you may be the HR department. If this is the case, it doesn’t hurt to seek some legal advice to ensure that you are handling the firing process in an appropriate way that does not conflict with any legal requirements.
However, if you are a more established company and have HR personnel or an outsourced partnership, it is a good idea to seek their advice on the approach to ensure firing doesn’t become a legal issue that will come back to haunt you.
Don’t pass the buck
No matter how badly you don’t want to do the firing, don’t put it on a colleague or other member of the team to handle it for you. As the business owner and leader, this responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders.
You know the employee better than anyone else and have the fortitude to handle these tough situations. Despite the emotions, the terminated employee will respect the fact that you took care of it rather than left them with someone who didn’t know them and clearly was just given the task of dismissing a former team member.
Be brief, but compassionate
The act of firing a person shouldn’t be something that takes a long time. Keep it simple and to the point. Neither you nor the person fired is going to want it to last any longer than possible. You will need to provide a reason for the firing and then let them know what will happen next in terms of process, payment, and benefits.
There may be times when an employee is upset and wants to continue discussing it. The best approach is to listen respectfully but then bring the conversation to a close as soon as possible afterward. The more specific you can be in terms of why you are firing the person, the fewer questions they are likely to have, so this will also help with brevity.
Again, don’t rush the process of firing because it will give the impression that you don’t care about this employee. And, no matter what the reason, you are sure to still have good feelings toward this person for the talent and skill they had given at one point in their career with you.
Be respectful of them by considering scheduling the termination at the end of the day when fewer people may be around and so you have some time to help them process the bad news. Offer to walk out with them to make sure there are no burned bridges or hard feelings beyond the initial sting that will always be there. Also, still thank them for their service with the company and note your appreciation for any contributions you can specifically mention.
Consider everyone who is left and communicate
The rest of your team will want to know what happened and, if they are not given some information, may jump to the conclusion that they could be next on the chopping block. It’s important to address the firing with your other employees.
While you don’t have to provide all the details to respect some confidentiality on the part of the terminated employee, you can mention that they do not have to be concerned about their own job security and that was an isolated incident that involved a breach of company policy. Focus on the future with your team so they understand everyone is moving forward together. If the person who was fired played a critical role in the company, you may want to have a transition plan ready to share with the team so they understand how roles and responsibilities may change until a replacement is found.
It never gets easier
Firing never gets easier where it becomes something you can do in your sleep. There will always be emotions involved, including disappointment that someone who worked for you no longer fits or is performing in a suitable manner. However, in knowing the right way to handle firing someone, you will be able to get through it without any critical mistakes or additional pain. It may also provide insights on how to hire differently in the future to avoid potential firings.