Dear BDC: How Do I Fire Someone?

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Firing someone is never an easy thing to do, but with the right mindset and preparation, things can remain dignified and professional.

Being a manager is a hard job. You have your own responsibilities, but you also have those of your subordinates. They look to you for guidance, clarity and leadership. All of this is multiplied the higher up your role within your company or organization.

There are plenty of issues that managers deal with on a day-to-day basis, so in order to make your lives a little easier, we created "Dear BDC," a new series around managerial issues that functions like "Dear Abby." Do you have a question you'd like us to address in "Dear BDC"? Tweet us! 

Dear BDC,

I need your help. I own a small marketing company. Although our end of the year numbers are looking great and my customers are loyal, I have one major problem. One of my employees (let’s call him Fred), has been performing sub-par. His reports are constantly late and often drenched in errors. He contributes little to meetings, has a no-can-do attitude, and he’s received two performance warnings to date.

Fred is hurting my bottom line to say the least, but I have a hard time letting people go, no matter the transgression. How do I fire him without breaking his heart?

Sincerely,
Firing Fred

Dear Firing Fred:

I can’t promise you won’t break his heart, but I can guarantee he will bounce back from the let-go (if you do the dismissal right, that is). And unless you’re Donald Trump, you must also accept the fact that firing is never fun. But it has to be done, and you’re not alone. According to the US Bureau of Labor statistics, startups fire a quarter of their employees within the first year of the company’s existence. Still, it doesn’t have to be heart breaking. With the right mindset and preparation, things can remain dignified. Here are four things to keep in mind when letting Fred go:

Related Article: Dear BDC: How Do I Give Constructive Criticism? 

Do it on the right day, at the right time

If you’re taking away someone’s income, do not do so on a Friday. A Monday or Tuesday would be more ideal. Sure, on a Friday Fred could party his blues away, but in reality, if you terminate him earlier in the week, he’ll have time to search and contact new employers before the weekend. Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources consultant, agrees. “If you fire them on Friday at 4 p.m., they're going to stew, and get angry and they don't have resources available to them," she tells U.S. News, “[Firing early in the week] gives them the opportunity to tap into their network and begin a job hunt.”

Ruettimann also advises waiting until the end of day to allow Fred some privacy when packing and leaving. After you deliver your carefully crafted “you’re fired” speech, at least leave the guy some dignity.

Prepare for the termination meeting

If you have an HR manager, consult them. They could provide guidance as to what you should and shouldn’t say, depending on your line of work. Having them in the room, before and during the act, will provide witness in case anything goes awry (accusations wise).

To start the meeting, inform Fred that they are here today to have a conversation regarding their employment relationship with your company. You should get straight to the point and let Fred know that his performance has not improved since his last review and for this reason, today will be his final day with your company. 

Avoid saying things like “This really hurts me too” or “You’re just not performing like John” or “You’ve been outstanding, but we just need to let go of a few people." If you’re letting him go for bad performance, be firm in your decision.

Have specific examples ready to reference in the event that Fred wants to discuss them. Also keep in mind that employees can easily get defensive and argumentative. If you sense the conversation is going this way, be firm in the decision that has been made and reiterate that Fred has had two previous warnings regarding his performance. 

After you’ve broken the bad news, introduce severance pay or benefits if offered. Again, be specific or risk further argument.

Related Article: Dear BDC: How Do I Best Manage Expectations?

Be Human

Finish your meeting with empathy. Since you seem kind-hearted, you shouldn’t have an issue with this part. Discuss what you’ll say if potential employers call for references. Consult HR or an attorney for what can and cannot be said when these situations arise in the future.

Document

One thing to keep in mind is that if you have had an open and honest dialogue with Fred while delivering his previous two performance reviews, Fred shouldn’t be surprised that he is now being terminated due to lack of performance. It's important that during these performance warnings to verbally inform the employee that if performance or behaviors do not change, it may affect his employment relationship.

Make sure you have the whole process in writing (this is where having an HR professional or attorney comes in handy). Everything said during the final meeting should be documented to avoid he-said-she-said issues. A wrongful termination lawsuit can cost you. And if you’re worried about liability, ask Fred to sign a release.

Firing sucks, but it’s a necessary part of business. If he’s hurting your profits, his presence might be best elsewhere. Be strong Firing Fred, and good luck.

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