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Things to Consider When Firing Employees

Being an employer can be a wonderfully enriching experience. However, there is one aspect of being a boss that few (if any) employers relish: firing an employee. Firing employees can be particularly difficult where an employer has developed a personal relationship with an employee, or where an employee has served a company for a number of years. Here are some tips to consider when firing any employee.

Think things through. Before you decide to fire an employee, make sure that you have thought things through carefully. If an employee is being accused of incompetence by a supervisor, do not take the supervisor's words without a grain of salt, no matter how much you trust the supervisor's opinion. Ask for documentation of the incompetence. Not only will this confirm the supervisor's opinion, it will protect you in the future if the employee challenges your decision. Do not act rashly.

Is the firing for a valid reason? Understand the valid reasons for when an employee can be fired in your state. Don't be vindictive. You can get into serious trouble if you fire an employee for the sole reason that they have informed authorities that you are violating laws designed to protect workers' rights and safety. The ramifications of violating a "whistleblower" statute are far greater than the cost to you of having to retain (and maintain a relationship with) an employee who accuses you of wrongdoing. The law in each state varies as to when an employee can be fired. Understand the law in your state before you decide it is okay to fire an employee.

Example: Minnesota has specific statutes and laws that make it unlawful for an employer to fire employees who testify against the employer in minimum wage compliance disputes, who participate in a union, or whose wages are being withheld for child support or other garnishment reasons. In addition, employers may not "penalize" employees for performing jury service and may not "retaliate" against employees for filing workers' compensation claims, safety complaints, wage complaints, or for reporting (or refusing to participate in) illegal activities.

Example: California prohibits much of the same conduct. In addition, California employers violate state law if they fire an employee for testifying as a witness, or for disclosing the amount of his or her wages to another party.

Don't get personal. No matter how much you may (on a private level) dislike a particular race or group of individuals, do not let those feelings cloud your business judgment. For example, if you fire someone for the sole reason that they are Jewish, homosexual, or female, you can face a serious lawsuit for employment discrimination and wrongful discharge.

Create a paper trail of the employee's performance reviews. Keep copies of all negative reports or warnings you have issued to the employee. It is much easier to protect yourself later if you can show that on more than one occasion you issued the employee a written warning that his or her job performance or attitude was sub-par.

Note: If you have written policies regarding poor performance reviews or policies concerning employee discipline procedures for insubordination or improper conduct, make sure that you have followed them to the letter before you try to fire an employee for those reasons.

Keep information confidential. Determine who is on a need-to-know basis and tell only those individuals that an employee is going to be fired. Ask that those individuals keep the information confidential. No one deserves to hear through the grapevine that his or her days at your business are numbered.

Consider all legal requirements you must comply with and do not fail to fulfill them. For example, if the employee is due compensation or commissions, have those figures calculated before you meet with him or her to discuss the termination. Know in advance what is owed to the employee. Have all documents (such as severance offers, which require a written acknowledgment) at the ready.

Arrange for any necessary parties to be present at the meeting. If you want to have the employee's supervisor available to back up your position as to why an employee should be fired, consider having that supervisor present for all (or a portion of) the meeting. If you need to have your human resource employee available to explain rights that the employee has to continuation of health insurance coverage, or other similar matters, have that person at the ready. It would be extremely disruptive to the firing process, and can prolong it unnecessarily, if in the middle of the meeting you must pause to bring a supervisor to your office.

Arrange for your meeting to be in a private place. It is likely that the process of being fired will be upsetting or embarrassing enough for the employee, without having the whole office watch through the glass wall of the conference room.

Be frank with your reasons for firing the employee. Do not say "well, jeez, I think you are making a good effort but it just doesn't seem like I am seeing the results I need." A statement like this will only give the employee false hope that he might have a second chance and may provide fodder for a subsequent lawsuit if he feels like you weren't telling him the real reasons he was being fired.

Ask for the employee's keys or access cards to the building. If the employee is calm and collected it will likely not be harmful to allow him or her to collect personal items and say goodbye to co-workers. However, if you feel that terminated employees may be disruptive, or may harm other individuals, escort them to their desks or work stations and make sure that they safely leave the building. If you are concerned that they may come back to the building to cause further trouble, consider alerting building security, or changing the locks and access codes to ensure they can no longer gain entrance.

Post-firing considerations. Once the hard task of firing an employee is over, your work is not done. Take care not to disparage the employee in front of his or her former co-workers. An attitude like that will rarely be perceived as professional and can be a serious deterrent to employee morale, particularly if the employee was well-liked by co-workers.

Legal Help When Firing an Employee

If you are in the midst of firing an employee, keep in mind that he or she may have rights to unemployment compensation or other benefits. Avoid a wrongful termination claim by speaking with an experienced employment law attorney today. 

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