4 Mistakes Employers Should Avoid Making When Terminating an Employee

By: Suzanne Lucas

Absolutely the worst part of being a manager is terminating an employee. Even when you know it’s the right thing to do, it’s hard—and not being prepared can lead you to make errors. If you’ve got this task ahead of you, here are 4 mistakes you don’t want to make.

1. Terminating too quickly
Jill totally messed up on that project, so she needs to go. Do you expect this level of perfection from other people on the staff? Is this how Jill always acts, or is she normally a great employee who just made a big mistake? Take time to calm down and think through the consequences of firing someone. Will your business be better or worse off with this person gone? Has anyone else made a similar mistake and not been terminated? Employers should be consistent in their disciplinary policy to mitigate their exposure to discrimination litigation.

2. Terminating too slowly
What if Jill really is a problem employee? It’s not just one mistake, she makes multiple mistakes: she doesn’t respond to emails, she doesn’t return client phone calls; she comes in late, leaves early, and eats other people’s lunches. How long do you let this go on? Many managers ignore very real problems for a very long time. Often, they’ll “punish” their good workers by pushing the bad employee’s work off onto the other staff. When problems begin to manifest, it’s probably time for a formal Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). This should include a time line with goals and consequences for each stage.

3. Not Being Ready for the Termination Meeting
You’ve documented Jill’s poor performance; she’s failed to meet the terms of her PIP, and today is the day you intend to terminate her. If you just try to wing it, you may say something wrong. Instead, prepare what you want to say before you walk into the meeting. Have all termination paperwork ready and signed off on by all applicable parties. The termination meeting should generally be short, no longer than 15 minutes.

4. Not having a witness
All terminations require a witness, preferably someone from Human Resources or your manager. The witness should never, ever, be a peer or direct report of the person being terminated. If you can’t get a witness, hold off on the termination for a day. Why? Because terminations are often emotionally traumatic and what you say may not be what your employee hears.

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Follow her at Twitter, connect with her at LinkedIn, read her blog, or send her an email.



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