Insider Exclusive: The Right Way to Fire an Employee

Insider Exclusive: The Right Way to Fire an Employee

By:Michael O’Brien

In last week’s Insider, Michael O’Brien, Regional Safety and Security Specialist with Consolidated Safety Services (CSS), explained how to make successful hiring decisions. This week, he addresses the difficult process of firing someone.

If you’ve ever had to fire someone, you know it’s not a good feeling. But you console yourself by telling yourself you did the right thing for your organization. And in many cases, when someone has to be let go, it is in their best interest as well. If you have to fire someone, there is a right way to do it—and a way that ensures your company is protected from potential legal action against you.

Have a Policy in Place
Before problems even begin to arise with employees, be sure that your company has a written policy for discipline and discharge. Typical procedures should include an informal warning explaining the problem to the employee and the company’s expectations, a timetable for improvement, a formal probationary period, a written warning, suspension without pay, and, as a last measure, discharge.

With a written policy in place, your managers will be able to do their jobs regarding discipline. For discipline to be effective, your managers must first be clear about performance expectations. They can then identify specific examples of employee behaviors that need to be changed rather than acting on suspicions or “feelings.” Managers should keep poor behavior documented so you can use it to prepare for the meeting with the employee.

Be Gracious
Given the cost and difficulty of finding new employees, it pays to approach the employee with a positive attitude and in a gracious and professional way. For example, if an employee is falling down on the job, find ways to help him or her improve. The employee may have received inadequate training, have physical or personal problems, or they might be a better fit for a different job in your organization. Develop a plan for improvement, and review it and benchmark dates with the employee. Be sure the employee understands his or her status and goals.

The Termination
If you reach the point when it becomes necessary to fire someone, review your company’s policies and procedures, review your documentation on the employee, and write the discharge letter. The exit interview should be brief, factual, and explain the reasons for termination. The less said, the better, but do give the employee an opportunity to talk (and vent). Whenever possible, your goal should be for the employee to leave with his or her pride intact. Discuss next steps in terms of severance pay or other benefits, and document the process and your communications with the employee for your files.

In addition, make sure you follow these musts when firing an employee:

  •          Never fire someone without a warning.
  •          Always fire someone in person.
  •          Have a witness present.
  •          Follow a checklist and be brief.
  •          Make sure the employee knows the decision is final.
  •          Do not allow the employee to leave with company property.
  •          Terminate the employee’s access to your intranet and other information systems.
  •          Do not discuss details of the termination with others; this often gets communicated to the discharged employee and can lead to legal action.

If a lawsuit arises because a company has failed to follow these processes, the company has only itself to blame. Follow your policies and procedures carefully, and most importantly, do your research before hiring someone to avoid having to fire them later.

Michael O’Brien is a regional safety and security specialist with Consolidated Safety Services (CSS) of Peachtree City, Ga. He can be reached at

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