Categorized | Workplace

Firing a Friend

Posted on 20 December 2008

How to handle tough employee terminations

No supervisor welcomes firing an employee, but with the proper planning and implementation it can be accomplished somewhat painlessly. The keys to firing someone legally and justly are preparation, an understanding of company policy, and knowledge of common pitfalls.

Preparing For The Meeting
Once the decision has been finalized to terminate an employee, a supervisor has several tasks before the meeting. They must first summarize the reasons for the termination. What has the employee done and how has it violated outlined company policy? The supervisor should rehearse what they’re going to say several times before the actually meeting time, making sure that they are comfortable and familiar with all of the specifics of the firing.

Next, outline what types of benefits will be given to the terminated employee, including COBRA, severance (if any), and any additional benefits. Have all paperwork and forms printed prior to the meeting, including a document for them to sign acknowledging the termination has taken place, as well as their final paycheck. If your company has a human resources department, clear all material, information, and benefits with them prior to the actual meeting time.

Whether it’s Friday evening or Wednesday morning, try and pick a time when few, if any, employees are in the office.

Meeting Time
Make an appointment to meet with the employee. Analyze your company’s environment and the personality of the terminated employee to best determine when the meeting should occur. Whether it’s Friday evening or Wednesday morning, try and pick a time when few, if any, employees are in the office.

It’s best to have an additional person to sit in on the meeting. This can help in case a lawsuit arises from the termination. And, in some instances, you may want security personnel present as well. This can work for or against a peaceful firing. Sometimes this can keep an employee behaving calmly and other times it only agitates him. Again, make this decision based on the personality of the terminated employee. You’re goal is to fire the employee with as little disruption to the office as possible. During the meeting, cover the following:

  • Get to the point. Don’t start off the meeting with small talk. Chances are, the employee knows that something is up. Jump right into the reason of the meeting and summarize the details of the termination. Braun Consulting Group suggests the “less is more” technique. Don’t get caught up in too many specifics and dates.
  • Deal with the logistics. Review what the company has decided to offer the employee as a severance package. Give them any paperwork, including signing their acknowledgement that the meeting and termination have taken place. Hand over the final paycheck and obtain any company property the employee may have, including keys and badges.
  • Cover security issues. While the meeting is in progress, have the employee’s access to sensitive documents and/or areas of the company blocked. Address this during the meeting so that when they’re collecting their personal belongings this doesn’t come as a surprise.
  • Close the conversation. A termination meeting should last between 15 to 20 minutes. Any more time and the issues at hand could get lost. The employee should be sent to human resources if any additional paperwork needs to be reviewed or an exit interview desired. Often the employee is escorted during this process and while they collect their things. Again, this is up to the supervisor’s discretion.
  • Legalities. Make sure your firing is legal. Run it through human resources as well as a lawyer if you have any questions or concerns. Further, you can fire an at-will employee with or without cause, but there are still legal issues to know. Don’t cause any undue stress or humiliation for the terminated employee. Familiarize yourself with the laws that protect both employees and employers before the termination takes place.

There are some ways in which the meeting could go awry. It’s difficult to anticipate how an employee will react with the news. Some will remain quiet while others become angry. A good supervisor will anticipate the whole spectrum of reactions. In preparation for the meeting, try to run through the questions and problems that may arise during the meeting and come up with solutions in advance. Don’t debate issues with the terminated employee and don’t get overly sympathetic. By sticking to the facts and logistics of what needs to be covered, you keep the conversation legally on track, as well as saving the employee the humiliation of having his wrongs debated at length.

Moving Forward
Document what was covered during the termination. Discuss the meeting with your superiors and a human resources manager to let others know how it went. Let remaining team members know immediately what has happen. Legally, you should never discuss the details of the termination with co-workers or clients. However, it is important to watch and listen to how others deal with the news. Buck Consulting’s Anne Chamberlain specializes in human resources issues and notes, “from the standpoint of morale, remaining employees look carefully at how departing employees have been treated; therefore it benefits everyone for management to be sensitive to the needs of departing staff.”

Terminating an employee can be taxing for the supervisor, the ex-employee, as well as the remaining staff. However, by being professional and thorough, both you and your team should be able to recover quickly and move forward as a company.

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