Picture it: You head up a team of hard-working, super-productive employees with can-do, positive attitudes. Like the gears of a well-oiled machine, everyone on your team comes in on time and does their job without needing constant monitoring… everyone, that is, except Daniel. Daniel is the lowest performer on your team — he comes in late, needs more supervision on projects than everyone else and regularly misses deadlines. His attitude is also lacking; you’ve noticed him trying to get others on the team to take on his negative feelings towards higher management.
As the boss, you know the warning signs — it might be time to let Daniel go. But he’s been working with the company for years, and you don’t want to make a misstep. Before terminating an employee, make sure you cover your bases and check out this list of things to keep in mind.
1. Have you warned the employee?
If you must terminate an employee’s position due to budget cuts or staffing issues, it’s usually best to do so rapidly, with little to no warning. But if your dissatisfaction with an employee is performance-related, it’s good practice to give him or her advance, formal notice that things need to improve in order for them to keep the job. Formal notice often comes in the form of a PIP (Performance Improvement Plan), which explains in writing what measurable goals the employee needs to achieve within a specific timeframe (usually 30-60 days). If the employee does not improve after a PIP has been set in place, you can move ahead with the termination knowing he or she is aware of what’s coming, while also having clear documentation that standards were not met.
Which brings us to...
2. Keep documentation.
Keep all forms of communication, and document as much as possible. This is not only a good practice for record-keeping generally, but it could help to protect yourself and your company from lawsuits. Keeping documentation means keeping copies of all emails sent and received, all PIPs put in place, and all conversations you may have had with the employee. It is absolutely essential that you can demonstrate the employee is being terminated because of performance issues, and not simply as the result of a personality conflict or other non-performance reason.
3. Talk to HR.
HR is there to help you. While you, as the boss, have the final say on whether or an employee on your team keeps their job, HR might be aware of certain extenuating circumstances you might not know and which could have legal or practical significance. For example, HR might tell you that Daniel’s daughter, who is on your company’s medical insurance plan, has just been in a major accident, which might prompt questions about the timing of dismissing Daniel. HR would also be aware of other circumstances, such as whether Daniel’s job is protected or subject to certain laws that could affect a termination decision.
When preparing to terminate Daniel, it is advised to have someone from HR in the room with you, to ensure the process is witnessed and proceeds as smoothly as possible.
4. Make a plan.
Firing someone isn’t as simple as telling them to take a hike, especially when the person in question has been at a company for a long time. There are benefits to consider — does the employee have insurance/transit benefits/gym memberships/company credit cards? Does he or she have a work laptop, a company car, a cell phone, access to high-level documents or drives? You need to work out how passwords will be deactivated, how access will be cut off, and how company property will be returned immediately after terminating the employee. If you’re nervous about firing the employee, it’s also advantageous to script out what you plan to say and practice it a few times.
Being the boss has its perks, but firing employees definitely isn’t one of them. Terminating jobs is never fun, but there are always steps you can take to go into the situation as prepared as possible.
Already taken these steps? Read on to find out How to Fire Someone, Part II (The Actual Meeting).