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Saying Goodbye to Problem Employees: Secrets to Fair and Legal Firing

Terminating an employee is never an easy task for an employer, but it’s often a necessary one if the employee has become problematic and is affecting the success of others and the business itself. Firing a worker in a fair and legal way is essential, however, as many surveys and studies reveal that the way this part of the employer/employee relationship is handled is often the reason behind a former employee’s decision to sue.

So, what do you need to know and do? Here are a few steps to take to help ensure the termination goes as easily and flawlessly as possible.

Give the Worker an Opportunity to Improve

Before you decide that termination is the only option you have left, take the time to speak with the employee in a private setting and discuss the concerns you have with their performance. Be clear about your worries and expectations; now is not the time to throw around general statements, like “Your work could be better.” Let them know exactly how their work has suffered and what they should do to improve it. You can even give them some advice on what they can specifically do to make such improvements.

Be professional at this time, not too direct but not too sympathetic. Let them know that they are teetering on the edge of termination and provide them with a timeline in which they have to improve.

Make Preparations

When firing an employee, make sure you’re completely ready for any situation before you walk into the room to talk to them. You not only need the required documentation in order, but you should also practice what you’re going to say and figure out answers to common questions they might have, like:

• Why?
• Should I leave now or work the rest of the day?
• Where can I gather my things?
• How long will my benefits continue?
• How can I return tools the company owns?
• When can I pick up my last paycheck?

The first question is perhaps the most important. Be careful when deciding how to address it, but do, even if your small business or construction company is in a state with at-will termination laws. Don’t attack the employee, but do inform them of what they did incorrectly, which company rules they broke and why it led to their termination. Keep in mind that performance issues aren’t the only reason for termination. It’s alright to fire someone because they don’t work well with your current team. Keeping them on just because they haven’t broken any rules can affect work performance and employee motivation.

Document Everything

When you hire an employee, they should be presented with certain documents that spell out the rules of the company, the requirements of their position and your expectations of them. Polices outlining disciplinary procedures and types of infractions and their consequences will help protect you legally and provide your employees with the information they need to do their best while on the job.

Fire in Private

While your employees may spend much of their time in the field, that’s not where the termination process should take place. Never fire an employee in front of their coworkers; let them leave with their dignity. Arrange to have them meet with you in a private, neutral location. It’s best to choose an office space that isn’t yours, so you can leave after the termination, giving the employee a chance to gather his or her thoughts and emotions.

Despite the need for privacy, make sure you don’t go into the situation alone. If you have a Human Resources department, have a representative come with you. If not, have someone you trust sit in on the termination. This helps protect you if a legal battle should ensue.

Obey the Laws

In some states, severance packages are required when you fire an employee. If this is the case in your area, obey the law and provide the employee with the correct compensation. If the worker has accrued any paid sick leave or vacation time, be sure this is on his or her final paycheck as well according to your stat’s laws.

Don’t Beat Around the Bush

One of the most common mistakes employers make, no matter what type of small business they own, is not being direct enough during a termination meeting. Ambiguous language like, “Maybe it’s time for you to move on,” or “Things just aren’t working the way we want them to” leave employees confused. If you try these during a termination meeting, don’t be surprised if the worker shows up the next morning for work.

When breaking the news, be direct. Use the word “terminated” if you can to avoid any misunderstandings. Let the employee know you are letting them go, your decision is final and you don’t want any negotiations. This may sound harsh, but it’s much better than letting the employee leave the meeting with the idea that everything will be okay if they just work a little harder.

End on a Positive Note

While it may seem difficult, try to make the end of the meeting as positive as possible. Let the employee know that you wish them good luck in all their future endeavors and provide them with contact information for individuals within the company that can help answer any questions they might have later. If there were any positive aspects of their employment, now is the time to capitalize on them, as long as your comments are honest.

Be Prepared to Leave

One of the benefits of choosing a neutral location is that you don’t have to wait for the employee to leave; you can walk out when you’re done with the termination. However, you still need to make sure the employee is prepared for your exit. Inform them before the meeting begins that you have another meeting or have somewhere to be after a specific period of time. This way, when you’ve finished speaking to them and filling out the paperwork, you can make a graceful exit.

Need to let a problem employee go? Make sure you do so fairly and legally with these tips.


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  • Anonymous
    July 11, 2019, 8:35 pm REPLY

    Just wanted to let you know that you people are the BIGGEST inconsiderate assholes I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve been attempting to gain employment with this company for over a year now. Every time there’s been a post

    • Anonymous@Anonymous
      July 11, 2019, 8:39 pm REPLY

      I’ve applied and reached out. Nothing but rejection emails and the last straw was when you all blocked my profile on indeed. Now I can’t see anything you post! Learn how to talk to people and give them a chance. You can’t judge someone’s ability based off of a piece of paper (resume, degree). I imagine your turnover rate is probably TERRIBLE considering job opportunities were posted left and right on career boards. Treat people equally and with respect and maybe you’ll find a good team to run your business someday.


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