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Firing an employee is one of the toughest tasks a manager has, even when the employee deserves to be fired. Terminating an employee must be done fairly – not only to assure he has no grounds to sue, but also to reassure your remaining employees that it is an isolated occurrence that does not affect them. Establishing procedures and following them precisely can accomplish what you need to do.
Avoiding a Lawsuit
All states are “employment at will,” which means that an employee can quit or that you can fire him without cause. To be on the safe side, you should be able to document the reason for letting a worker go. You do not want the expense and bad publicity of a lawsuit against you, even if it is unfounded. To get rid of a bad employee, you need to have policies in place to document unacceptable conduct and its consequences. Not only will a procedure protect you, it will guarantee that the employee is not caught off guard by your action.
Traditional Termination Procedure
When you first address a bad employee's problems, you have a discussion, letting him know that his behavior is unacceptable. Document your meeting and give the employee a copy of your observations, allowing him days or weeks – not months – to address his problem. If he does not improve, you issue a written warning, which he must sign, notifying him that he could be subject to termination if he does not change. If the employee's conduct does not improve to your satisfaction, you suspend him for a day without pay. The final step it to end his employment.
Time Off for Bad Behavior
An alternative approach is to shift the dialogue from being accusative to consultative. Instead of confronting the employee with his bad behavior, you address him, “I have a problem and need your help.” You then explain how his conduct is impairing your ability to run your organization or department. Explain what you need done and obtain the employee's concurrence. Give the employee a summary of what you expect from him and a timeline to accomplish it. If his behavior improves, provide recognition. If it does not, then offer him a day off with pay. Explain that he may resign if he wishes or return with a commitment for good performance. If he returns and does not reform, he will be fired immediately.
Terminating the Employee
Be sure you have documentation in order with a checklist of company property for him to return – keys, access card and other items. Have his final paycheck ready if you can – find out if your state requires it. If the employee is entitled to a severance package, have that information available. Meet with him in a neutral room such as a conference room, not your office. You may wish to have a third party present as a witness. Do not make any light conversation – explain why he is being terminated and show him your documentation. Do not rationalize your decision, which is final. Explain any benefits to which he is entitled, obtain necessary paperwork and company property, shake hands and escort him from the building.
- Ask a Manager: How to Fire an Employee with a Bad Attitude
- Nolo: What to Say When You Fire an Employee
- New York Times: Terminating Employees Legally and Gracefully
- Information Week: Letting Go Gracefully: How To Fire An Employee Without Burning Your Business
- Grote Consulting: Discipline Without Punishment
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.