Forget TV, This is How to Fire

No organization should notify someone of their termination via cable news ticker.  Especially not while the fired individual is giving a speech to employees. Yet, performing a termination can be hard to plan and execute.  Here are my four tips on how to terminate an employee:

Do it privately. There’s no need to include an entire country, office floor, department, or cubical set in the termination.  It should be the individual’s supervisor and someone from human resources.

Pause before you do it. Firing someone at the height of anger is never the right decision.  You can suspend someone if she really made a mistake that will hurt the company, but don’t make the termination decision then.  Wait to talk with at least one other person – like human resources or your employment law attorney.  This discussion can often uncover issues that could create more risk, like the existence of an employment agreement, potential retaliation claims, and more.  Maybe an investigation should be conducted.  This pause will help evaluate a termination and all the potential risk.

Do it in the middle of the day. The first thing that happens during the day shouldn’t be a termination.  The last thing you want other employees to leave on shouldn’t be someone else’s termination.  Try for after lunch.  This gives you the opportunity to do the termination and then talk with the team it most directly affects.  Assure them that this was a business decision, and that while you are not going to share specifics, you’re there to answer questions should they have any.

Wednesdays are best. There are two reasons why Wednesdays are best.  First, when someone is terminated and he feels the termination was unjust, he wants to talk to an attorney right away.  If you terminate on a Friday, he doesn’t get that opportunity.  Instead, he has to wait all weekend, get even more upset, and may even call other employees to vent.  If you term on a Wednesday, the employee now has an opportunity to find an attorney, speak with them, and hopefully, he’ll learn he doesn’t have a case.  This can happen all before the weekend.

Second, when you terminate on a Friday, the remaining team goes home for the weekend concerned about their jobs.  They might be concerned about how they fit in or whether more terminations are coming.  You may have terminated a popular employee, who they will miss.  This change is unsettling.  By Monday, those worries could become irrational and out of control – making morale an issue the entire week.  If you terminate on a Wednesday, there are two more days for the team to ask you questions and get reassurance.  By the following Monday, things have settled, and it is likely that the termination is now a distant memory for many.

Do it with as much dignity as possible. No one likes to get terminated, and with some very few exceptions, no one loves to terminate.  If you embarrass, demean, or are in any way cruel (even unintentionally), the termination will come back to haunt you.  The terminated employee could sue you or other employees could hate you.  If you preserve as much dignity for an employee as possible, you reduce your risk.

These tips are meant to help protect an organization even while leaving an employee vulnerable.  Just thank goodness that for most of us, our terminations will never make national news.

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