Ellen Warden, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
WorkPlace Synergy, LLC
The only thing harder than deciding to fire someone is delivering the news. What do you say? When and how do you say it? It’s not easy. But, there’s help.
Review what you’ve done to help your staffer improve. Plan how you will handle work in progress. Be ready to explain what will happen: final paycheck, how to continue benefits, any severance, etc. Put this into bullet points, including the “what if’s,” and rehearse it.
- Best day?
Preferably mid-week; early am on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Employees won’t feel you have wasted their time coming to work, which happens when you fire on Monday. Friday is a bad day because so many next steps are interrupted by the weekend.
- Fire face-to-face
Don’t fire using any electronic method—no emails, IMs, voicemails, or phone calls. Even a letter is a bad idea. When you can, have a second manager sit-in as to aid with disputes that might arise later.
- Matter-of-fact and short
Skip the small talk. Be direct and focused in breaking the news, so the employee realizes the decision is final and non-negotiable. If you have managed properly up to now, your employee won’t be surprised. Show sympathy but don’t be tempted to soften the blow with false praise. Don’t apologize for your decision or include talk about “valued employee.” Don’t offer empathy or help that you can’t or won’t provide. Here is a possible scenario:
“Susan, I’ve asked you to meet with us today since, as you’ve been aware for some time now, we are not satisfied with the quality of your work.
We’ve talked with you many times over the past few months, identifying the parts needing improvement. Unfortunately, we have not seen the improvement we were hoping for.
With that being said, we have decided to terminate your employment with us.”
“You mean I’m being fired?”
“Yes, that’s right. We gave you at least two written warnings and several verbal notices. I know you’ve been trying to meet the expectations and I appreciate that. But it’s still not working out, you didn’t make the type of improvement that we needed to see.
Thank you for your time and all the work you’ve put in. I feel like we’re parting on good terms. There are some logistics that I would like to go over with you.”
If the employee vents or expresses unhappiness, you say, “I understand you feel that way, but the decision is final.” Deflect attempts to draw comparisons with other employees: “We’re not going to talk about anyone else. We’re here to talk about your work. And we’ve decided it’s not satisfactory.”
Pleas for ‘another chance’ should be met with: “Tom, I sympathize with your feelings. But we have given the situation a lot of thought. It was not an easy decision to make and we did not make it lightly. It’s time to move on. This is our final decision. We truly wish you the best.”
- Pivot to logistics
“Today is going to be your last day. You will get your final paycheck on [date], and it will cover payment through today. It includes [accrued vacation, pay through the end of the week or month, etc.]. You can continue medical insurance for you and your family by [instructions]. Here is a Separation Agreement [if applicable]. If you authorize it, you will receive additional compensation of $X. Take the time to look over the Agreement. The Separation Agreement expires on [date]. (Don’t pressure the employee into a decision at the time.)
No more work is needed from you today. Please leave your keycard and laptop at your desk. You can take your possessions home now if you wish. If you’d rather return this evening around [time] I’ll help you bring your things to the car.
I’m going to gather the team after this meeting and let them know that you are moving on. We will also notify your clients. We want you to leave on good terms with everybody. I wish you the very best of luck in the future. Do you have any questions?”
Even when the business justification is clear, it still is tough to sit someone down and break the news that a paycheck is ending. It will never be easy. But, preparing ahead and using a script helps manage the process.
Do you need help terminating an employee? Make sure you understand the do’s and don’ts. Ellen Warden works with BV/LS practices around the country to help them align their HR solutions with long-term objectives. You can reach Ellen at WorkPlace Synergy.