Stop! Do This Before You Fire an Employee
As a manager, one of the least pleasant tasks that you’ll ever have to do is firing an employee. It’s never fun to be the one who has to share news that negatively affects someone’s livelihood, never mind their overall career path and self-esteem. And while the vast majority of people take the news of a termination as well as one might expect, there is always the possibility that such a conversation could end badly, adding an additional layer of apprehension to the situation.
While in some cases, termination is the only viable option for dealing with a problem employee, firing someone should always be your last resort. Not only does making a snap decision to terminate leave you vulnerable to legal action, it’s not always to best solution to the problem. So before you let someone go, there are a few things that you should do.
1. Performance Improvement Plans and Progressive Discipline
Among the most common reasons that companies terminate employees are poor performance and failure to comply with company policies. Someone who is chronically late or absent from work can be a drain on the team, and the longer the behavior goes unchecked, the more likely it is that productivity and morale will suffer.
However, before you start looking for a replacement, you should work with the employee to improve their behavior and performance. The employee could be dealing with issues or obstacles that you’re unaware of, and when you address those issues, performance will improve. Creating a detailed performance improvement plan and checking in with the employee at specified intervals can make a significant difference, and prevent the loss of an otherwise excellent employee.
In the event that performance or behavior does not improve, following the principles of progressive discipline, such as written documentation of warnings and plans, will serve as evidence, should termination become necessary.
2. Consider the Impact on the Company
Firing an employee doesn’t just affect the employee — your whole team, as well as other departments, will feel the impact of someone being let go. In some cases, others may breathe a sigh of relief when a “problem child” is shown the door. However, if the termination is due to factors that other employees aren’t privy to, such as failure to meet sales goals or work quality issues, the termination could come as a surprise, and lead to resentment, fear, and lowered morale due to other employees feeling like they could be next in line for a surprise pink slip.
In addition, if the employee on the chopping block is instrumental to your dealings with clients and other departments, you need to consider how this decision will affect them. For example, a client might be unhappy to learn that their account representative has been let go, and take their business elsewhere. While you can’t let personal relationships dictate business decisions, before you fire an employee you must consider the ripple effect and take steps to reduce the fallout. Again, the best course of action is almost always to find a way to salvage the situation.
3. Evaluate Your Response to Infractions
One reason that terminated employees are often able to sue for wrongful termination successfully is that they are able to prove inconsistent application of policies. In other words, if they can prove that they were fired for the same actions that others did without consequences, then you could run afoul of the law.
Therefore, before you draw up a termination letter, it’s important to examine your records to ensure that you have applied all policies consistently. If you haven’t, you may need to resort to a progressive discipline approach or develop a performance improvement plan to address the issue first.
Sometimes, personalities just don’t mesh well — and someone who seems like a “bad” employee really isn’t. That same person who wasn’t a good fit in your department could be a top performer in another area, or under different leadership.
Before you end an employee’s employment, talk with other leaders and try to determine whether there are opportunities elsewhere in the company that could be a better fit.
In most cases, the employee in question will be aware of the problems and willing to work with you, but you never want to surprise someone with a transfer to another area — or “dump” a poor performer on another manager to avoid the unpleasantness of firing that person. Still, if someone has the potential to be a great employee or a skill set that your company needs, a shift to another role could be the ideal solution, instead of termination.
Firing an employee is never an enjoyable task, and in some cases, it’s unavoidable. However, before you pull the plug, take some time to carefully consider your decision and consider alternative solutions. You could save yourself a lot of unnecessary angst, as well as a lawsuit from an unhappy former employee.