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Tips for an unpleasant part of your job: Firing an employee

After spending a significant amount of time vetting potential employees, you probably felt as though you found the perfect fit. The applicant more than likely looked good on paper and interviewed well.

However, as time went by, you may have noticed that the person you thought would fit seamlessly into your company may not be the right fit. His or her performance may not meet your expectations. You now face the difficult choice to terminate that employee. First, you want to do it in a way that isn't confrontational, but you also know that you need to do what you can to avoid legal repercussions.

The following tips may help

Once you know that you must take the unpleasant and awkward step of firing an employee, you may want to make sure that you have a plan. The following may help you prepare and reduce the stress of the situation:

  • Give the employee some warning. It may not be necessary to terminate him or her right away. If you believe that further training or some other assistance would improve the employee's performance, it might be worth your while to give it a try. Create a performance improvement plan for the employee to follow, but only if you have some certainty that it will work. Of course, this option only works when no serious company violations occurred that require immediate termination.
  • Give concise reasons without lengthy explanations. More than likely, you documented the employee's lack of performance and conduct. You don't need to spend a significant amount of time explaining your decision. A summary and the documentation should suffice.
  • Terminate the employee in person and in front of a witness. Even though you feel that the employee needs to leave the company, that doesn't mean that he or she doesn't deserve to be told face-to-face. This way, the employee may also ask questions, and you can provide the information he or she needs. Having a witness in the room protects both you and the employee. You also have someone who can attest to what happened in the meeting should litigation arise.
  • Once the meeting is over, the employee should not have access to any company property or technology. It may be best to make arrangements to either deliver any personal items or allow the employee to come in after hours to collect those items -- with supervision, of course.

It may not seem possible to get through this process on a high note, but taking these and any other steps you feel appropriate could at least make it less unpleasant for everyone involved.

Protecting your company

Though you may be sympathetic to the person's situation, one of the primary goals of following the above steps is to protect your company. No matter how nice you are about the situation or how "good" you feel you left things in the end, the employee may still attempt to file a lawsuit against your company. For this reason, you may need to take steps to ensure that you follow all legal requirements under federal and California law before you step into the room to deliver the news.

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