How to be the Terminator
If you’re like me, you truly hate to terminate any of your employees. Below are a few things I’ve learned over the years to make this difficult job a bit easier if you’re firing for cause.
1). A beheading is good for morale. Other employees know that the person who you’ve just fired needed to go. In fact, they may have wondered why you didn’t do it sooner. Firing someone who isn’t pulling his or her weight lets the other employees know that you expect everyone to do their best.
2). Firing is often good for the person fired. A firing can be seen as another injustice in a long list of real or imagined injustices in the life of someone who will never “get it,” or as a wake-up call for someone who actually has character. In the former case, nothing you could do would help the individual – they’re losers. In the latter case, you may be turning someone’s life around to be full and prosperous.
3). Fire the snakes now! Even if it means that you and the rest of your team need to pick up major slack, get rid of anyone who is resentful, dishonest or will stab you in the back. Fire the snakes without delay or they will bite you. Don’t worry about the impact on the rest of your team. They know the snake is a snake.
4). Listen to your advisors. If you have business advisors (or an attorney) who advise you to fire someone, do it at once. You are emotionally involved. Your advisors aren’t. Not listening can cost you enormous amounts of money.
5). Cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s.” In today’s litigious world you can’t document too much. While Colorado is an “employment at will” state, meaning that someone can be fired for any reason or no reason, the courts don’t necessarily agree with this. “Wrongful termination” suits are rising, and, depending on your county, are being occasionally won by disgruntled ex-employees.
The defense against this is documentation and a very good, legal, personnel file. Note each warning you give an employee. Document every corrective measure you’ve taken with each employee. If you have a policy of giving a performance plan before termination – document it. If you give a written warning, make sure that a copy is in the personnel file. All of these things will help you get the case dismissed if you get sued.
6). You’re going to be tempted to explain. Don’t. There is absolutely nothing you can say that will make the employee less angry, depressed, resentful or hurt. There are lots of things you can say that will form the basis of a really good lawsuit against you.
Protect yourself. Only give broad generalities, such as “your performance was not up to our standards,” or the like unless the reason for discharge is obvious, such as stealing. Even then, the less said, the better.
7). Fire on Friday when possible. Fire at about 3:00 – 4:00 PM on a Friday whenever possible. This will let the newly terminated leave without everyone seeing him or her, and an enforced cooling off period before contacting their attorney.
8). Protect your proprietary information. While you are firing the individual, have someone else change the passwords on the newly terminated person’s computer. Allow them to retrieve any personal information only with supervision. While you may not like feeling like a cop, you don’t want someone putting a virus in your system or copying your trade secrets, either.
9). Have the terminated person sign a release to receive a severance check. Make sure that your attorney has drawn up the release, and that you follow labor laws so far as what you must pay the terminated employee at time of termination. But for anything other than what the law absolutely requires, make them agree not to sue you for anything.
10). Have a package ready. Have a “termination package” ready with COBRA information, any instructions for outplacement, and so on. Make sure to retrieve all keys, keycards, and company equipment.
11). If you have to fire someone, do it yourself instead of “farming it out” unless your company has a policy requiring HR to do terminations. This is one of the worst days of someone’s life. It makes it worse to hear it from someone they don’t really know all that well.
These tips don’t make firing easy. But they might just help a bit, and protect your company in the bargain.