It's never easy to fire an employee, especially the first time.
The process can play out as a quick version of the five stages of grief. At first the employee might be in complete denial. This fairly quickly turns to anger -- directed at the messenger. Then comes the pleading: The employee promises to do whatever is needed to keep the job. This may be followed by sadness, often manifested in crying. And finally, the conversation ends with some level of acceptance, hopefully.
The first time I fired someone, the employee was simply not meeting deadlines. She was extremely talented, which caused me to ignore the problem at first.
I decided to speak with her to try to find a solution. I really wanted to help her because of her talents. Then we had another chat -- and another. Nothing worked.
When a client complained about the missed deadlines and other inefficiencies, I knew the woman had to be fired. I had given her more than enough time to improve and plenty of suggestions.
My decision was difficult because I tend to become very emotionally invested in my employees. I deeply care about their success and do my best so they feel like a part of my team.
Firing people never gets any easier, but the first time can be the worst, especially if someone is one of a startup’s initial employees. Here are some ways to the process go a little smoother:
1. When is it appropriate to fire an employee? Be aware of fireable offenses. Illegal activities, such as theft, lying, fraud or assault, can serve as grounds for firing. When accusing an employee of such an offense, be sure you have evidence to back it up.
Performance-related offenses can also be cause for termination. If an employee has consistently failed to meet deadlines and follow through with projects, this is a reason to let him or her go. Just remember to first provide the employee sufficient amount of time for possible improvement and action-based steps to do so.
Sometimes interpersonal reasons, such as failing to communicate effectively, having an inability to connect and get along with peers or refusing to cooperate with management, can trigger a termination.
2. Understand the legal rules. Avoid a lawsuit at all costs. Although lawsuits are sometimes inevitable, follow all the rules to ensure you've used good judgment when firing someone.
Understand your state's "at-will" employment policy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, every state (except Montana) can adopt an "at-will" employment policy, enabling an employer to fire a worker anytime for any reason. The employee's contract, though, might contradict a state's employment policy. So check the language.
Understand when it's illegal to fire someone to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit. Employees can't be terminated because of factors like age, gender, sexual orientation and religion, whistle-blowing or taking off time for a medical or military leave.
3. Make sure you have all the bases covered. The firing process should be thoughtful and respectful of the employee and transparent. It should never come as a surprise.
To ensure that a firing is justified, have it take place only after a series of performance reviews and meetings with the employee.
Prepare documents to explain the termination decision to the employee. These should be culled from written records kept from every performance review and meeting with the employee. If the worker failed to improve, then the firing has come as the final step of the process.
Figure out the logistics. The employee will have questions about the termination date, compensation, unemployment benefits such as unemployment insurance and the firing itself. Set exact dates for the termination and gather information from the human resources department that could be useful for the employee.
Related: Make the Firing Process Easier
4. Break the news. Informing the employee of a firing is never easy. But never sugarcoat a termination. Although it’s a difficult conversation to have, be 100 percent transparent. Tell the employee exactly why he or she needs to leave and provide the information he or she needs about the termination. Be sure to provide evidence of why the firing is happening. From a presentation of examples of a poor performance or failure to meet goals, the employee will learn why the termination was necessary.
Give an employee the option to leave immediately. After the meeting, the employee probably won't want to stick around to pack up his or her belongings. Let the person come back in a few days for that purpose. Or offer to pack up the items and send them directly to the home.
Losing a job is a traumatic experience. Listen intently and answer the employee's questions empathetically and thoughtfully. This conversation should clarify any issues before he or she leaves the company permanently. At the meeting's close, provide the option of talking with a human resources staffer about any further questions.
Be prepared for repercussions. Don’t expect the employee to like you after a termination. You are now the enemy, even if the firing occurred because of the employee's actions. Do your best to not react to the situation and remain calm.
What have you experienced when firing your first employee?
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