I’m a stereotypical HR lady. I have two cats, a couple Coach bags, and I like to fire people. Now, nearly ALL the HR people I know don’t like to fire people, but based only on pop culture, we share the reputation that we like to fire people. (I actually do, because by the time my client calls me to ask, firing the person is almost always the right decision. But I digress…)
There comes a time in every HR and management person’s career where they have to fire someone. There also comes a time when an employment attorney provides advice on how to actually fire someone. This isn’t necessarily legal advice on whether the term will have legal consequences, but nevertheless, we need to teach people how to fire. So, without further ado, follow these steps:
- Talk with the employee. I ask my clients whether the employee has any idea that they could be fired. If they don’t, maybe we should step back and go back over performance expectations. Or, if it is misconduct related, should we give the employee a second (or third) chance? If the employee knows or the behavior is eggregious, move on to step two.
- Gather documents. Hopefully, a manager will have documented conversations with the employee or at least documented expectations the employee was supposed to meet. If none, ask for some. Documents can be an email describing conversations, actual write-ups, text messages, or other things that can be printed in some format. Put all these documents in the employee’s file.
- Schedule the termination. No, you don’t have to put the meeting on the employee’s calendar (if they have one), but you need to make sure all the people who need to be there or have post-term action items know of the termination. This includes the manager, HR, and likely IT. Wednesdays after lunch work best for terminations – the employee has a couple of days to check with an attorney if they believe the termination was unlawful, and more importantly, the team that has just suffered a loss gets two days to recover before the weekend. If you terminate on a Friday, everyone sits with it all weekend, wondering to themselves what happened, stirring the pot, and potentially causing a bunch more drama. It’s better to give everyone a couple of days to ask questions, figure out who will take on tasks, etc. before a weekend. Then, once Monday comes round, the drama has largely dissipated.
- Prepare bullets. The manager should be the one actually doing the firing (this is why they make the big bucks), and they’ll need to prepare. Their bullets will be the expectations the employee didn’t meet, what happened when they didn’t meet those expectations (e.g. impact on the org or team), and the reason for the termination. HR prepares bullets for what happens after termination like the return of personal belongings, COBRA, what happens with accrued PTO (or vacation and sick time), and severance package information (if any). Also, prepare for any questions the employee might have that you can anticipate. Fair warning, people respond to a termination in a bunch of different ways. You will not be able to anticipate all of them, but knowing the employee will help get you most of the way.
- Get together the stuff. Some of the stuff you’ll need to gather include: (1) termination letter; (2) severance agreement (if you want); (3) COBRA notices; (4) box for personal belongings if you want the employee to take their stuff immediately; and (5) information to gather passwords from the employee. (Talk with IT on this last one.)
- Do it. In person. In private. If the employee works remotely, schedule a video conference. No one should get fired over an email, post-it note, or letter alone. Sometimes, it makes sense to terminate over the phone, but if at all possible, everyone should see the whites of each other’s eyes.
- Launch IT. Once you’ve done it, protecting the organization’s trade secrets, confidential information, and other assets (including co-workers) is the top priority. Contact IT to close down accounts, access, remove access over personal cell phones, or put in motion plans to redirect email and telephone contact from customers, vendors, or other internal folk. You may even need to talk with security to get keys and/or fobs. If the organization leases space, tell the landlord who gets access to the building, namely not the fired worker.
- Gather their stuff. You can either have the employee pack up their stuff (if they have an office) or pack it up yourself. If you’re the packer, take pictures of each drawer or shelf before you pack up in case the employee says you forgot something. This way, you can present pictures to the employee and ask for more specificity as to what they’re looking for.
- Talk with the team. When someone gets fired, no matter how much it is needed, the manager and sometimes, HR, needs to meet with the team to go over what happens next. The manager doesn’t need to share why the term happened in most cases, but easing the minds and anxieties of the team is crucial to getting through the loss. Be ready with questions about tasks, desk location, and a whole multitude of concerns employees might have. It’s okay not to know all the answers, but assuring employees you’ll get back to them is crucial.
- Regroup. Once the termination is over and maybe even a couple days later, meet with the manager again to go over what could have been done differently – not necessarily better, just differently. Could have expectations been set better? Could more discussions could have been had? Should we shift how tasks are assigned? This is a really important opportunity to learn something from what just happened. Don’t skip this step!
No one thinks terminations are actually fun – they’re not. That said, firing someone is a necessary part of effectively running a business. Every business. If you haven’t ever done it, then it’s likely that you should have. Remember, it is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive to keep someone around who isn’t meeting expectations or is toxic to your environment.