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4 steps to use when firing an employee

Firing an employee isn't easy, but you can take steps to minimize the drama -- and any potential liability your business might face.

Remember the following rules when firing an employee:

1. Don't act without warning

Most of the time, the problems that lead to an employee's termination are cumulative. Follow the company procedures in place for giving an employee feedback, verbal warnings and written warnings regarding the problems you see. Apply the same standards to everyone and document the steps you take before you fire someone in order to reduce the chances that allegations of disparate treatment or discrimination will stick if the employee files a lawsuit alleging a wrongful discharge.

2. Have the final meeting in person

Give every employee the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting when you deliver the bad news. (Otherwise, you may create unnecessary hostility and even damage your relationship with your remaining employees.)

Have someone else in that final meeting with you. Your human resources manager, administrative assistant and the employee's direct supervisor are all possible choices. A witness can help you prove that everything was handled in a professional manner if the issue ends up in court.

3. Don't say more than necessary

Prepare what you want to say in advance. Aim for a statement that is clear -- but with a minimum of detail. For example, you can say, "We are letting you go because your performance doesn't meet our expectations."

Don't argue with the employee about whether or not he or she deserves to be fired. Don't try to justify your decision. At this point, focus only on the fact that the decision is final. Specific explanations can come back to haunt you if an employee files a lawsuit.

4. Limit your employee's access

While it seems cold to have security stand over an employee who is cleaning out his or her desk, there's a reason it happens. You need to protect your company from an act of revenge.

During your meeting, ask the employee to return his or her laptop, tablet, company phone, pass, identification badge and other company property. Make sure that he or she does not access the company's data systems from that point forward in order to protect your suppliers' and customers' private information.

Still not sure how to manage a termination? An attorney with experience in employer liability defenses may be able to advise you.

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