There is wisdom in the old business adage “Fire fast, hire slowly.” You will not regret the time you spend interviewing and talking to references for that important new hire. However, you may regret hanging on to a less than stellar employee for too long.
Keep in mind that many employees need a training and adjustment period when they begin a new position. Beyond that time if you feel in your gut that someone is not fitting in with your staff or with your company culture, however, prolonging the inevitable can drag everyone down.
Why do we put off firing someone? The answer is pretty obvious. It is hard to deliver bad news to someone. Plus, most of us try to avoid conflict as much as we can. If you follow some basic steps, you will find that you will be able to get through this unpleasant task with everyone’s dignity intact.
Know the Labor Laws that Apply to Your Business
For example, although federal law does not require an employer to pay a discharged employee a last paycheck immediately, some states do.
Also, be careful with any unpaid benefits. In some states, an employer must pay an employee for unused vacation time or unused paid time off. Be sure to comply with your company policy.
Identify the Reason or Reasons you Are Firing the Employee
Don’t make a firing decision on the spur of a heated moment. Think it through carefully.
Is it related to job performance issues? A negative attitude? Not fitting in with your company culture? Be sure you understand the reason so that you can communicate it effectively to your worker.
Keep Clear Records
An employee should not feel he or she is being fired out of the blue. Share your concerns with the employee and suggest a trial period to fix the problem. Keep records of the performance review meeting.
Include any documents supporting your case, such as complaints from customers or co-workers, quotes from supervisors about any failure to follow procedures, emails or other records. These records are essential in the event the worker ever tries to sue you for wrongful termination.
Determine the Last Day
Unless there has been a criminal offense, offer the standard amount of notice, such as two weeks or 30 days, that is in your company policy. In determining this day, it is a good idea to keep in mind how much time the person needs to finish any current projects and how much time you may need to find a replacement.
Does your company have a severance payment policy? If not, this is a good time to establish one. Some companies pay a minimum severance of one- or two-weeks’ pay to a fired employee and an additional week of severance for each year they have been working with the company.
Now comes the hard part. Now it is time to meet with the employee to share the difficult news. Choose a location that is comfortable but offers privacy. If the worker has a private office, meet there. That way, he or she is on comfortable ground, and you can be the one to leave when the conversation is over rather than the other way around.
Be as clear and direct as possible without being unkind. Resist the urge to begin with small talk and get to the point as soon as you can. Avoid generalities such as “Things are just not working out” in favor of specific reasons you have made the decision to end employment.
No matter how prepared and professional you are, the employee may exhibit a range of emotions, ranging from disbelief to anger. Stay firm with your decision but offer some compassion as well. Avoid being drawn into an argument. If the employee is on the attack, you could say something like, “I understand how you feel, but our decision is final.”
Be prepared to answer some questions. Even if you have already covered severance pay and the last day, the employee may have missed the details because of the awkwardness and stress of the situation. Calmly repeat any important details.
Many employees will want to know how the news will be given to other workers. Be clear on whether you or a manager will be disseminating the news or whether the employee can share the news.
Before you end the meeting, provide contact information for yourself or the supervisor who can answer any further questions that come up. Also, leave the employee with relevant paperwork.
End the meeting with a handshake. If the situation is not too acrimonious, say something positive about the employee’s tenure with the company and, if possible, offer to provide a reference to future employers.
Firing an employee is one of the downsides of owning your own small business. Try not to blame yourself for the person not working out, and move forward with finding the right person for the job.
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