Firing an employee can be stressful, especially if it’s related to performance issues or policy violations. But what you do before you fire an employee matters a lot and can make the difference between having a clean break or a long drawn out lawsuit or investigation. That’s why it’s important to follow some best practices before you fire an employee. Learning how to fire an employee properly can save you a huge amount of time, money and stress.
Document your efforts before you fire an employee
Before you terminate an employee, it’s always best to try to save the relationship and document your efforts in doing so. This may take many different forms, but primarily, you want to show that you coached the employee or attempted to train them so that they could do their job up to standards. You could show that a progressive discipline policy was followed before termination or that you gave a performance improvement plan of coaching that didn’t work. Following these practices will allow you to document the issues leading to termination and potentially avoid a wrongful termination or discrimination claim.
Firing an employee shouldn't be a surprise to the employee
If a progressive discipline policy has been followed with the employee, termination shouldn’t be a surprise to them, but remember, even firing a bad employee can be disruptive to operations. Because of this, termination really shouldn’t be your first resort. If the termination is for disciplinary or performance reasons, be sure to have the written documentation to support your decision. Documenting all coaching and counseling conversations in writing is an important step in how to fire an employee.
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Which tool you use matters when you fire an employee
Whether you leverage a progressive discipline policy or performance improvement plan, or forgo these options and move straight to termination, depends on the problem you are having with the employee.
A performance improvement plan is more of a scheduled, regimented, long-term method whereas progressive discipline sets the employee up for a more performance versus consequences setting. In other words, the employee knows that they have been put on notice of some type of infraction and they’re expected to right that wrong immediately. I generally recommend that employees are allowed to participate in a progressive discipline plan before any termination is considered. Counseling the employee before progressive discipline is ideal and allows you to gather plenty of documentation. If this isn’t possible you’ll want to start considering progressive steps to take with the employee to right the sinking ship. I generally recommend the first phase of progressive discipline to be a verbal warning. The next phase might be a written warning, and then finally, if the problem persists, a final warning or termination.
Progressive discipline plans should be documented in your handbook, but the extent to which you describe the process should be limited and well known by your management team. You don’t want to create an implied necessity to act in a certain way every time with employees. There are times where an employee needs to be terminated immediately, and you want to allow for this in your policy. some of the possible grounds for immediate termination might include workplace violence, egregious harassment, unacceptable performance issues during an introductory period, or a violation of certain workplace safety policies. For the most part we don’t recommend summarily discharging an employee outside of cases of violence or threats of violence. But if the problem is so bad that you believe it merits immediate termination, speak to an HR professional who was not directly involved. Remember, in any termination, the burden is on you to prove that the employee was not subject to retaliation or discrimination so always make sure that you have adequate documentation in hand before releasing an employee. If you follow these steps, you will have a big advantage in how to fire an employee.