If you are like many employers, you probably agree that the most distasteful part of your job is firing workers. Not only is the situation awkward and at times emotional, but you can open yourself and your company to legal backlash if you handle it poorly. For these reasons, it is a good idea to have a system in place for those times when you may have to let someone go.
The last thing your company needs is the distraction, expense and risk of a wrongful termination lawsuit. An employee who feels that you fired him or her unfairly might seek justice through the courts, and without adequate preparation and documentation, you could have a difficult time defending yourself. It may seem counterintuitive, but the process for terminating an employee begins weeks or even months before taking action.
It is illegal to terminate a worker simply because he or she belongs to a protected class, such as race, sex, religious affiliation or age. Additionally, you may not fire someone as a way of retaliating after the employee exercises his or her rights, like reporting sexual harassment or illegal activity. However, an employee may suspect or claim this is your motivation unless you can demonstrate your valid reasons for termination. You can do so with the following actions:
- Keeping careful employment records, including performance evaluations, disciplinary action and records of conversations about issues the employee may be having
- Informing the employee as soon as you realize there is an issue that could jeopardize employment
- Providing a specific amount of time and direction for the employee to improve in the area
- Working with your Human Resources department to ensure you follow protocol
- Preparing exactly when, where and how to conduct the termination action
- Settling matters, such as whether the employee will receive a severance package, if the employee must leave immediately and how to make the transition
- Meeting in a private, comfortable place with your employee and several witnesses to conduct the termination
- Documenting everything that transpires in the meeting
Your employee may have many questions, and you or your HR representative can decide how to address them. Often, it is best to keep the meeting short and professional to avoid escalating emotions. Of course, it is also possible that your employee’s actions warrant an immediate termination, such as illegal activity, acts of violence, proven discrimination or sexual harassment. However, any termination could have legal ramifications, so it is wise to consult with a legal professional throughout the process.