How to Fire Someone

February 20, 2009
by Rachel Balik
Firing or laying off an employee doesn’t have to be an entirely painful process. FindingDulcinea offers some advice for approaching the situation and some strategies that allow you, the former employee and your coworkers to weather this undeniably awkward event.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Firing someone is never easy—and it’s frequently as unpleasant for the person doing the firing as it is for the person getting fired. If you’re a small business owner, you probably imagined assembling a team of fabulous employees who were as devoted to your vision as you were. But growing your business sometimes means making difficult choices, an article at asserts; the piece offers 12 tips to follow when letting someone go. It’s important to be very clear about your expectations throughout the duration of an employee’s career, if she’s not meeting them, let her know. If  you are considering firing someone whom you’ve praised  in the past, have a meeting, set clear goals, and track changes over a 30-day period. Then, if you can show them how they failed to uphold those goals, the separation will be a little easier.

Be firm, but kind. It helps to break the news at the end of the day, and early in the week, so that the employee can leave as quickly as possible and not have time to stew about it over the weekend. Whatever you do, don’t change your mind. Your employee may get angry; that is not your cue to look down and say, “Come to think of it, you actually weren’t late to work every day! Welcome back.” One strategy for sticking to your guns is to already have reassigned the employee’s work to others. Lastly, before paying any severance payments, require them to sign a release agreement that has been drafted by your lawyer.

Learning to Let Go: Large-Scale Layoff Basics

Unfortunately, as layoffs increase nationwide, and chances of getting another job become less likely, employees have been suing their former employers more often. The New York Times reported in January 2009 that the number of discrimination-based lawsuits has risen 15 percent in the past year. In addition, some employers facing tough times have violated the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or the WARN Act, which generally requires 60 days’ notice before initiating large-scale layoffs. The number of lawsuits filed under this act is expected to increase significantly.

Complying with the WARN Act may obligate you to offer a severance package. While you are otherwise under no obligation to offer severance, it may be advisable if the employee is leaving on relatively good terms. Some options to consider in a severance package include factoring in anticipated bonuses, allowing employees to keep their laptops, or agreeing that the employment record will indicate the departure was based on mutual agreement. You might also agree to put an auto response on the employee’s work e-mail address, or offer outplacement services to help the employee find a new job.

Word often spreads fast among employees when a layoff is imminent, so you may wish to confirm the news. However, during the actual layoff process, legal Web site Nolo suggests speaking to employees one at a time; it’s more respectful.

Back to the Grind

Layoffs are often as scary for the remaining workforce as they are for the people being dismissed, and supporting your remaining staff is essential, advises Nolo. Ensure that they’ll be trained well for any additional work they need to cover, and praise work verbally, and with raises and promotions, if possible. But in a survey conducted by one Washington, D.C., management research group, 77 percent of remaining employees reported that their coworkers were making more mistakes than they had prior to layoffs, a San Jose Business Journal article reports. Fear seems to be the culprit in these cases, and communication is the antidote. Try to explain why layoffs were conducted, give remaining employees a clear idea of their new responsibilities, and offer whatever assurances you can about the future.

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