Transitioning employees in any capacity can be risky business. You never can be sure exactly how an employee will react, what they will say or how it might affect you. Firing someone is a sensitive matter, one that should be taken on with knowledge and guidance. It is apparent that this employee is not working out, and action needs to be taken. Knowing your boundaries with respect to the legal and emotional aspects of firing, along with exercising some common decency, can make this whole process smoother for everyone involved. As management, you are the leader of this process. Management sets the tone for this transition, and it’s important to know the boundaries.
Those in charge of making hiring and firing decisions should always be aware of their legal limitations. Safeguarding the company against legal action or a hit to the employer brand really is part of the job. Each state will have different “at-will” laws. The employer of an at-will employee may terminate said employee at any time and for any reason without incurring liability so long as the reason is not against state or federal law. We realize that this doesn’t clarify everything, but it does mean that employers should have a decent understanding of what at-will means for them. All state and federal laws will uphold civil rights laws against discrimination in the workplace.
There is also the matter of employee contracts. Employers should have a full understanding of these such contracts if the soon to be ex-employee has one. Employee contracts will often define the duration and terms of employment. If either party is to breach an employment contract, it is most likely to result in legal action.
It is always best to keep organized and thorough records of performance reviews and disciplinary actions. When documentation is kept on the poor performance or attitude of an employee, it is very easy to disprove discrimination or bias. When documentation is processed correctly, this firing should be a surprise to no one. Keeping such records is an excellent safeguard against legal action. Although documentation will not keep companies out of the line of fire, it will keep them from getting burned.
Please check out this informative post from our own Judy Lindenberger, “How Can You Fire Someone Without Getting Sued”.
First and foremost, the manager or supervisor conducting the transition meeting should know that this is not about them. How they personally feel about firing this person should not be heard, felt or seen. Whether management feels guilty or just plain joyous about their departure is irrelevant and inappropriate to bring up in any capacity.
The delivery should be firm, but also kind. This isn’t a warning, this is the real deal, and the decision has been made. A lot of first timers will back down and enter negotiations. This isn’t a negotiation. Keep this meeting short and sweet and save your soapbox for someone who is still getting paid. They don’t want to be in this meeting any more than you do. Additionally, this meeting should be conducted in a private place, and its focus should not be common knowledge to everyone in the office.
Having even a basic understanding of the emotional and legal aspects of firing someone can have a huge impact on the safety and brand of the company. We have a lot of resources on this matter here in the Careerminds blog.