Several employment law experts have recently focused on terminations, producing lists of varying lengths of mistakes employers make when firing someone. We’ve distilled the best of their advice here:
- Never fire someone when you, the decision maker, are having a fit of anger at the person. Unless you’ve just caught him or her red-handed in an act of gross misconduct—we hope such instances are rare—you will need to have built your case slowly over time.
Assuming you’ve amassed such a dossier, you can decide to fire someone when that final straw hits the camel’s back, but you shouldn’t do it right then. Wait a day or so until you cool off, and plan the session calmly; you don’t want to say anything that will come back to haunt you.
On the other hand, don’t keep putting it off; fire the person promptly once you’ve decided it’s necessary.
- Marshall all your documentation as you prepare: Review the person’s entire file, ensure any investigations you conducted were thorough, know the details of your handbook, and ensure that you have all evaluations and reviews in the file.
- Make sure your decision is consistent with other termination decisions in the company; for example, don’t fire someone for an offense for which others were suspended or merely warned.
- Conduct the termination in a private office or conference room, not publicly or in the person’s cube, where coworkers can overhear.
- Offer the person a coherent explanation of why he or she is being fired. Don’t lie by saying the job is being eliminated or the company is downsizing if that’s not true. Be honest about the poor performance. And avoid personal attacks at one extreme, or jokes at the other.
- After the termination, decide how and whether to announce that the person no longer works for the organization, but keep the reasons for the termination confidential.
- As the employee is departing, gather his or her keys or entry cards and any other company property, such as a credit card. Remember to lock the person out of the IT system and remove him or her from the website.
Tip: In general, the employee’s immediate supervisor should conduct the termination meeting, and it is sometimes wise to include the supervisor’s manager, depending on the circumstances. But HR should always be included; the HR person will describe any remaining pay issues, including accrued paid time off if it’s been promised or state law requires it, and hand over information about COBRA and any other needed paperwork.