Ask any manager or human resource manager and the hands-down most hated job is firing someone. It doesn’t matter how bad the behaviour, or how justified your action – as soon as you need to fire someone your palms start to sweat and you get butterflies.
So what do you do? Here are 15 firing tips on how to let someone go respectfully. They won’t make the task any easier for you, but they will make a difference for the person on the receiving end.
Before you hit the “fire” button, take time to review every piece of documentation about the person and the performance issue or issues that have led up to the decision to fire. Will the documentation stand up in a court of law? Have there been adequate warnings? Is the matter so serious that you can instantly dismiss? (Always talk with your employer’s association or an Industrial Lawyer before you instantly dismiss someone).
Get the paperwork together
The termination letter, severance pay and all other documentation should be prepared and ready to go on the day you fire the person.
Choose your day and time
The rule here is early in the week, early in the day. At times, a lunch hour may be acceptable as it gives more privacy for the person. Never terminate someone just before a weekend or public holiday as you give them time to “stew” without the support of colleagues and employment agencies.
Follow due process & natural justice
This means that you need to ensure that you have carefully investigated the matter, have given the employee the opportunity to correct the situation, have made them aware of allegations against them, and considered the employee’s response to allegations prior to making any decision to terminate. If your company has a policy/industrial award/agreement in relation to termination processes, or if your government has specific processes, then you must comply with these processes.
Do it in person
We have all heard horror stories of people terminated by Facebook, email or phone. When you are going to fire someone, the only respectful way to do this is in person.
Keep it private
Ensure that you fire the person in private. This does not mean the local coffee shop. You may also find that your office is not a great choice. If possible, use a neutral conference room where people walking past can’t see what is going on.
Watch the emotions
If you are angry, do not fire someone, as you are 100% guaranteed to “stuff it up”. Only fire someone when you have collected your thoughts and are relatively calm. You also need to watch the emotions of the person you are firing. It is not your role to be their counsellor – your role is to be professional but human. Don’t be cold and don’t gush – keep your emotions on an even keel.
You will need a witness to the meeting. This witness should be someone from Human Resources or another manager, not one of the employee’s peers. Remember also to offer the person their choice of a support person to attend the meeting with them.
Protect yourself & your business
People who are hurt and upset can do irrational things. Make sure you always plan before you get into the room what you will do if the person becomes violent or angry. Also, remember to change security codes and computer passwords as soon as possible – this can be done while the person is in the meeting or soon after.
Explain & Be Clear
In the meeting, you need to explain to the person that they are being fired. You need to use very explicit words such as terminate, end your employment or let go (yes, it may seem harsh, but unless you are overly clear people will misconstrue what is happening).
You also need to explain the high-level reasons why the person is being fired. This is not the time to list every tiny mistake – round them into a general title “poor performance”. Make sure you cover when you expect the person to finish (immediately), what termination pay they are entitled to and what you will say if anyone calls you for a reference.
Find a positive
No one was a total waste of space in a workplace. Find at least one thing that the person did well which could be they made a real effort, or they were always punctual. Don’t lay it on too thick though.
Wish them well
Always wish the person well for the future. Just because they were not right for your workplace, doesn’t mean they won’t be wildly successful somewhere else.
Collect your property
Make sure that all your property such as mobile phones, laptops and security passes are collected before the person leaves the building.
Tell the team
You need to be the one to tell the team as soon as possible after the event to stop the rumour mill. You can’t tell them why the person was dismissed (that is confidential) – but you can tell them the person won’t be coming back. Ensure you reassign the tasks of the person and let them know your plans to fill the role. You can be sure that the person who has been fired will contact at least one of your team to check what was said about them – so keep it professional.
Tell the clients
Your last task is to ensure all clients of the person are informed that the person is no longer working with you, and who their new point of contact will be. Take the time to reassure them of your continued focus on service and attention to their needs – otherwise, you may lose more than just the dismissed employee!
There is no nice way to fire someone. All you can do is to work hard to ensure that you fire the person in such a way that they leave with their dignity intact.
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HR Author and Lecturer with over 25 years’ experience in human resources and workplace relations in Australia. Lead Author of Instant HR Policies & Procedures, NDIS Direct Employment HR Manual, and Employee Performance Reviews: Tips, Templates and Tactics.