Terminating Employees

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Sometimes it may seem that actually firing an employee is impossible. Here are some ways to make it work for you. Should you find yourself continually trying to modify an employee’s behavior and unable to get the desired results, then considering dismissal, or termination, is the logical next step.

Documenting Events 

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It is, of course, possible to terminate employees. It is easiest in cases of clear and serious misconduct or breach of conduct, but even less serious or cumulative events can lead to termination. By the time you reach the state where you are considering terminating anyone, you will have had to review the steps included in the previous module on progressive discipline. 

Important things to remember: 

  • As we discussed in the previous module, you may find yourself meeting the employee in an advanced stage of the progressive discipline process. By the second stage, you need to have met with and discussed the matter with HR before you actually threaten dismissal to anyone. If you do not have HR staff, because you work in a small company, then check with your superiors to ensure you have the authority to act as you see fit. 
  • Your documentation must be excellent. Make sure that all of your paperwork is in order and that what you are documenting is part of the process. Stick to the facts in your documentation, and leave your personal opinions out of it. Sign and date your notes and any letters to the employee. Ask the employee to sign and date anything that you provide them with as “received and read.” They do not have to agree to the content of the document, but should sign and date it to indicate that they have received it.
  • Part of your documentation can also come from another person, such as an HR consultant. If they attend any meetings with you, ask them to also take notes and sign them. 

Making the Decision

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There is a lot of thought that goes into actually making the decision to terminate someone. Part of this is emotional, and part of it is logical. When we struggle to make the decision for any reason, consider that your turmoil may come from wondering if you are really making the best decision. Of course, the reason that your stomach may be in knots could also have to do with the increased tension that managing this particular employee has brought. Discuss your decision making process with HR and your immediate manager to get their support. 

Some employees will present themselves in such a way that you may question your judgment about firing them. Asking these questions will help you to determine whether you are on the right track:

  • Am I being hard on this person unnecessarily? (Obviously there has been continued poor performance or misconduct that has led to this stage of the process)
  • How serious were the infractions or performance issues that led to this? Do I still believe that they are worthy of termination?
  • What are the implications of releasing this employee in terms of backlash to the company, my work unit, and my professional integrity? 
  • What are the implications to me as a manager, to the results of this department, and to the morale of people working here, to keep this problem employee?

Communicating the Decision

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The termination meeting is simply an advanced stage of progressive discipline, but with very dire consequences. Before the meeting, you will have to determine whether the termination requires that the employee be escorted from the property following the meeting, or if they will be allowed to pack up their personal effects. If they work in a sensitive area that is vulnerable to sabotage or tampering, or where they may make comments to co-workers that can be overheard by clients, the safety of the workplace is even more important. 

For staff that has remote access to computers, business cell phones, keys, and access cards, a plan must be put in place to ensure that there are no security breaches following the termination. 

If you are having the employee leave the office that day, how will you ensure that they get home safely? You should never, ever let an employee drive themselves home after dismissal, but you could arrange a cab. Depending on the circumstances, you may also arrange to have a counselor from your EAP on standby.

Never, EVER, dismiss an employee on a Friday, no matter how tempting it may be. If circumstances come to a head on a Friday, you can prevent the employee from entering the workplace over the weekend by restricting access. (This should only be done if there is a concern about behavior or safety of the other workers or property.)

However, they should not be fired at that time. You can, however, tell them that both of you will take the weekend to cool off and then meet to discuss things the next week. Normally, we have enough indication that termination is pending that we can actually avoid doing so until the following week. 

Communicating the termination should be done in a brief, professional meeting. You will have the HR person with you. If the employee is aware this is a disciplinary meeting, they may have a union representative or advocate with them. If you are a unionized workplace, you can invite the union representative to attend. Keep the dismissal meeting short, and free of personal bias or remarks. If you have had previous meetings about an issue (through the progressive discipline process), you can briefly recap why you are here today. If this is the result of a serious incident and no previous meetings took place, calmly review the circumstances (reading right off the termination letter is best). 

If career transition (i.e. job search) assistance is being provided, the terms of the services should be outlined in the letter, as well as any severance pay. When you finish reading, ask the employee if he or she understands what you read, and that they are being terminated from their employment effective immediately. Ask them politely to sign the letter, not because they agree with the contents, but to say they have received a copy of the letter. Ask them to provide you with keys, access cards, cell phones, or any other company property they may have on them. Ask them to provide you with any company property that may be at home within 24 hours. Offer them an EAP brochure, or if a counselor is available, let them know. 

Then, end the meeting and have the HR representative or their union representative escort them to the counselor if another room is being used, and for the HR/union representative to follow through with the arrangements for them to go home. You could offer a taxi chit, call someone for them, or have a trusted colleague drive them home. Again, do not allow the individual to drive home from work following this meeting. 

When you finish with the termination meeting, you may need to decompress too. This can be a nerve-wracking task, and so you may wish to undertake a wind-down activity (such as meditation, deep breathing, a discussion with HR, or your favorite cup of coffee), as a way to unwind after the meeting. 

Afterwards, document that the meeting took place, and follow up on any outstanding items that need to be addressed (particularly related to security and access).

Case Study

Trent and Cassidy were facing a difficult issue with an employee and had decided they needed to terminate the employee. They had already implemented the progressive disciplinary action and were considering the best way of handling the tricky situation of actual termination. Cassidy suggested the work out a plan for ensuring the protection of the company and its assets and Trent agreed and stipulated that they shouldn’t dismiss the employee on a Friday and should have him escorted out of the building because of the delicacy of the situation. Trent and Cassidy were happy once they’d agreed on the details and decided to conduct the dismissal in a brief and professional meeting which would be conducted with a union member present. Both were satisfied with their decisions and prepared for the meeting that following Monday.