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There’s a wrong way and a right way to fire an employee. Do it the wrong way, and you could ruin your company’s reputation and deter new job candidates. Do it the right way, and you and your former employee can at least part ways with a minimum of hard feelings and some mutual respect. It is almost the end of the month and of the first quarter of 2014 (it also happens to be a Friday today), so if you’re thinking about firing an employee here are some guidelines that can help you avoid some of the common pitfalls of letting someone go.

Do It in Person, Face-to-Face

When you fire an employee, it’s absolutely vital that you do it in person, to the employee’s face. Don’t do it on the phone. Don’t do it via email. Don’t do it over Skype. Don’t send a letter or a text. Your employee is about to be out of a job, standing on the unemployment line— you owe this person the respect of a face-to-face chat.

Remember, even if the employee hasn’t worked hard for your company, he or she probably feels different. If you fail to handle the firing with dignity, your former employee will remember it for the rest of his or her life — as will the other employees. By failing to show your soon-to-be-former employee the proper respect, you could damage company morale and start nasty rumors. The disgruntled ex-employee might even retaliate, which in the age of social media, could harm your company’s image permanently.

Have a Witness Present

When you fire someone, you’re making yourself vulnerable to a wrongful termination lawsuit. It doesn’t really matter whether the firing was actually illegal or not. A disgruntled former employee can still decide to find a lawyer who will take his or her case. To protect yourself, it’s best if you have someone else present when you terminate an employee.

A second person in the room can be a witness just in case you wind up in court. Even without a court case, your witness can help you out if necessary. That’s one of the benefits of contracting the services of a PEO — you’ll have a professional with experience in these matters to turn to for help if you need it.

Don’t Fire Someone Out of the Blue

Unless your employee is guilty of willful wrong-doing, you should provide some sort of feedback and coaching process first, before you fire him or her. Everyone makes mistakes, and it takes time and money to fill a position after you terminate someone. It’s really in your best interest to give the employee a chance to improve instead of firing him or her right away.

This also means you should support and assist your employee to help him or her improve, too. It’s not fair if you don’t do your best to support the failing employee’s performance, and it could give him or her grounds for a lawsuit later. Make your requirements for improvement measureable and specific and document each step of the feedback and coaching process.

Do the Firing in Private

Firing an employee right out in plain sight of all the other workers can breed resentment and distrust among those who remain, and it gives your former employee reason to be bitter. Take the employee aside, into an office, or conference room to deliver the bad news. He or she deserves the chance to process the news in private.

Keep It Short and Sweet

You don’t need to go into long-winded and excruciating detail when you fire an employee, especially since you should have already given plenty of feedback prior. The employee probably understands all too well why he or she is being fired. Deliver the news quickly and concisely and keep the conversation moving forward.

There probably will be a conversation. Even though your employee probably understands why he or she is being fired, the shock will prompt him or her to ask why. Reiterate that you’ve already given feedback on the employee’s performance issues, and emphasize that his or her performance still doesn’t meet company standards for the position. Wish the employee luck. Make it clear that the decision is final.

Don’t Let the Employee Return to His or Her Work Station

Your employee may be upset when he or she is terminated. Avoid upsetting the other employees, and preserve the former employee’s dignity, by making other arrangements for the employee to collect his or her things. Offer to let the employee come back after hours, or on a weekend, to get his or her stuff, or send the possessions to the employee’s home. Make sure you collect all of your company property, files, documents and materials before the employee leaves. If he or she insists on picking up his or her things right away, accompany him or her back to his or her work station.

Firing an employee isn’t easy, but sometimes it just has to be done. If you’re one of the many employers who hate firing people, we can help. It’s one of the many services we offer.

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