As soon as you hire employees, you will have challenges – this is a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’ Some of those challenges will mean that you have to terminate employees. It’s a difficult, but necessary task; it’s also a high-risk one. But, there is a way to fire well.
Firing someone is unpleasant, but it’s a practical move in many cases. For instance, firing an underperforming employee may be the best decision for your business and team. Sometimes, being terminated can be the best thing for the individual, too.
Don’t believe us? Google ‘getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me’...
You will have more decisions to make once you exit an employee. The task doesn’t solely revolve around cutting a member of your team… you need to prepare to confidently enter the meeting and ensure the entire process is completed without a hitch. You’ll also have bases to cover once the termination has taken place.
It is important to note that firing someone is complicated and littered with nuance. Any mistake you make could be costly, and the negative impact on your business could be detrimental. Thus, this guide is not intended to replace the advice of an HR Professional and/or lawyer.
In fact, we strongly encourage you to consult an HR Professional or lawyer before firing any employee.
This guide is intended to help you understand how to reduce legal risk, deliver the news professionally with compassion, and minimize the impact on your team and business. Read on to learn more about how you can fire well.
How to prepare for a termination
Nobody looks forward to doing this, but it comes with the territory. You’re a leader and MUST be prepared to conduct terminations throughout your career.
If you aren’t prepared, your business – and the other people who rely on you – will suffer.
Whether this is your first termination or you’ve already handled a few, following the steps to ensure the termination’s impact on your business is minimal is crucial.
And, while firing somebody is often the best (or only) course of action for you, it is also a high-risk one…ample preparation can help you avoid costly mistakes!
When it is over, you will be glad you took the time to do things properly. Here are some vital steps you must take to prepare to fire an individual in an organized and professional way (or, as we say, fire well):
Connect with HR
- HR can advise on the situation and they will offer initial insights and direction, such as confirming that you’re making the right decision, or how much severance you should provide
- They can take the lead in the document drafting and preparing the offboarding process
- They can also help you determine the risk profile, and complete a release form
Note: If you do not have an HR Professional, you will be responsible for these steps
Review the Employee’s File and Documentation
- You will need to review their employment contract
- You will make different decisions based on their unique situation – for example, if they are an employee of ten years, their termination will look different than that of an employee who is in their probationary period
- Reviewing relevant correspondence, like performance reviews, formal warnings, accommodation requests, etc. is strongly advised
Organize Compensation and Benefits
- Determine ESA pay (this is a legal requirement)
- Decide on benefits continuance- if you will, and for how long
- You will need to check to see if they have accrued vacation or personal days to ensure they are paid accurately
- You will confirm all details with accounting (and remember, they must be paid for their termination day, too)
Finalize Key Details
- You will need to review what company equipment must be returned and decide how and when you will instruct them to do so
- Determine if you will be offering any career support to your employee – this could be counselling or another service that may help them transition into a new job
- You will have to prepare to reallocate their work/daily tasks to other employees – do not inform these employees until after the termination has taken place – but have a plan to delegate tasks when the time comes
- You must inform the appropriate parties about which systems will require disengaging – for example, their email account or access to other platforms/software – this is especially critical for ones that contain sensitive data
- You need a witness to be present for the conversation to help avoid ‘he said, she said’ scenarios – finalize the details and ensure that this individual can attend the termination meeting
Formalize your Communication Plan
- We highly recommend drafting a conversation script in advance – knowing what you’re going to say can help mitigate any sidetracked conversations
- You may wish to consider roleplaying the scenario ahead of time to avoid awkward errors and calm your nerves
- It is advised that you take time to prepare a communication plan to notify your team immediately after the termination has taken place
- Determine whether you will be meeting in-office or remotely
Note: Castle HR clients often practice roleplaying with our HR Professionals. Roleplaying can help you become more comfortable having uncomfortable conversations!
Schedule the Meeting
- Find a timeslot in your calendar to schedule the meeting and ensure that the employee accepts your invitation
- Touch base with them a day before to confirm the meeting, but keep your interaction brief (basically, don’t say anything unusual that would raise any red flags for them)
- If you’re meeting in person, ensure you have a comfortable meeting space – it should be private, and tissues should be placed nearby – terminations are, understandably, upsetting for many people
We know from experience how overwhelming a termination can be for both parties involved. However, regarding firing well, you, as the employer, will have one shot at getting it right.
As daunting as this might seem, getting your ducks in a row and entering the meeting with confidence (and a plan in place) can reduce the chances of a bad termination.
On the other hand, a sloppy, disorganized conversation will not only be a poor experience for the individual being fired but also put your company at risk!
You can never be too prepared.
What are the best practices for conducting a termination meeting?
The termination meeting is where your preparation pays dividends. As you know, a termination meeting can be stressful for all parties involved…especially for the employee being terminated.
Remember, the goal is to fire somebody in an organized and professional manner, free of error. Effective communication is vital here, as is empathy and adequate planning!
Keeping your preparation in mind, there are still some essential things to remember when you meet with the employee to ensure that you fire the individual well:
During the meeting
- Once everyone has arrived in the meeting space, you must avoid small talk – this is just as vital for remote terminations
- If you are firing remotely, you should appear on camera but do not be shocked if they turn theirs off
- Stick to your prep! In other words, this is where you will rip the bandaid and get straight to the point
- It is important to remember that your decision is final and that this is not meant to be a two-way conversation – stick to your script and deliver the news quickly and directly
Note: If you have an HR Professional, they can take over once you have announced the termination to your employee. If you do not, you will have to continue and follow the steps below:
Review key points of the Termination Letter & Release Form
- You may pass the baton to your HR Professional at this point (if applicable); if you are conducting this meeting virtually, you can leave the meeting if that is what you discussed with your HR Professional during prep
- Go over high-level terms of the severance package
- Discuss how any equipment will be returned and give clear instructions
- Review details of the career support (if applicable)
- Confirm their personal email address (to send documents to)
- Encourage them to review the documentation with a trusted advisor and/or lawyer
- You need to give them at least a week to review your offer, so let them know what date you are expecting a response by
Wrap up the meeting
- If you’re meeting virtually, you (or, your HR Professional) should wish them well and end the call
- If you’re meeting in person, you should allow them time to collect themselves in the room – be compassionate and professional
- Offer them a ride home (via Uber, Lyft or taxi) if needed
- Show them to their desk so they can pack up – do this subtly and sensitively, preferably when there aren’t a lot of other employees around
- Walk them out of the office
There is no easy way to fire somebody, but there is a way to do it properly.
The more organized, prepared and confident you are, the better – dodging road bumps in the meeting and protecting your business is critical.
Once you have had the meeting and communicated effectively with the terminated individual, you can focus on the final steps of firing well. Yes…the most challenging part is done, but there’s still work left to do to complete the process!
What should you do immediately after firing someone?
The termination process doesn’t conclude once the former employee exits the building. While you can take a moment to breathe and get back on track, you’ll have a few tasks that must be addressed post-termination. You need to check all of your boxes. Otherwise, you’ll have an incomplete (or poorly conducted) termination…the opposite of ‘firing well.’
To avoid any hiccups, doing the following immediately after firing someone is absolutely pivotal:
Send Final Documents
It’s essential to review any changes in your documentation – for example, if they mention vacation time that was initially overlooked during your meeting, you must make adjustments wherever necessary. Then, you must send the final documentation to the personal email address verified during the meeting.
In your email, you can reiterate that they should review the documentation with a trusted advisor and/or lawyer in your email correspondence. You can also tell them when you need to hear back from them – as we noted above, you must give them a week at minimum.
All system access should have been disengaged immediately; if not, you should communicate with the appropriate parties directly – for instance, you may need to contact an IT team member at your company.
At this point, you can also connect with those employees who will have tasks delegated to them and set up any necessary meetings to ensure everyone is aligned and able to take on extra work.
If, for any reason, your team members can’t take on all of the extra tasks, clarify the top priorities and decide how they’ll be tackled effectively until you backfill that role. The last thing you want to do is place unrealistic expectations on other people and put unnecessary pressure on your team. This is one of many reasons why preparation is so vital!
You may wish to have emails drafted and ready to send to make this step easier.
Business leaders must reflect on the termination and determine what – if anything – could have gone differently.
Understanding what led to the termination and any friction points can help you improve as an employer. Be sure to make a note of anything that went awry…or that went particularly well.
Looking back at notes from their interviews, probation reviews, and performance reviews can provide insight into early warning signs that you missed. These are things you can correct when you go to hire their replacement. (More on this later!)
Share the News with Your Team
This is where you can utilize the statement you drafted during your preparation stage to communicate with your team. They need to be notified of the situation promptly…
How to communicate with your team after a termination
Communicating with the remaining members of your team promptly after completing a termination meeting is pivotal. The last thing you want is for your team to hear rumours – or to find out several days after the meeting.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some members of your team may be shocked, or even saddened, to hear of their co-worker’s termination. We’ve all been employees at one point or another, so it’s important to be as professional, prompt, and transparent as possible. You owe it to your team! We recommend you do the following as soon as the termination has occurred:
- Send the statement digitally using your team’s preferred communication channel – this could be Slack, Teams, or even email
- Remind your team that your ‘door is always open,’ and uphold this standard – this can help reassure people that they’re part of a strong, growing team – sometimes, terminations are necessary, but they can still be confusing and upsetting
- Emphasize that speculating and discussing the separation is not appropriate and will not be tolerated – you must respect the person who was terminated, and act accordingly if anybody on your team fails to comply
How can you learn from the termination experience and improve the process?
Terminations are not fool-proof; as mentioned earlier, they’re littered with nuance! Because of this, it’s impractical to strive for seamless terminations 100% of the time. While avoiding legal issues and costly mistakes is critical here, you may still encounter friction points.
This is why we highly recommend an internal review. You may do this immediately following the termination meeting, but it could also be worth reflecting on after your team has been notified and you’ve had a few days to think about how it all went. If you notice friction points (or you experienced a trickier termination than you had anticipated), you may have to go back to your preparation and spend more time on documentation or preparing your script. You may also notice that you’re seeing a trend in terminations; perhaps your turnover rate is higher than you’d like it to be.
Why is this important?
Retention and acquisition go hand in hand. If you aren’t consistently hiring the right people for your company, putting them in the right seats, and checking in on them regularly throughout the year, you may have a preventable problem. It all comes down to who you hire and how you hire them (e.g., using a great job description that reaches the right people, interview scorecards to remove bias, etc.), how you onboard them, hold them accountable and support them also plays a significant role in performance and retention.
What does this mean?
…sometimes, terminations aren’t preventable; other times, they are. Whether or not the onus is on you or your processes, it’s essential to understand why each termination occurs and how/if you can proactively prepare better for your next one. That’s why firing well is so important – doing it right and being confident in your preparation (and all parts of the process) will help you consistently protect everything you’ve built and avoid legal issues.
There are many moving parts to a termination, and that’s why it is considered a high-risk action for every company.
While firing someone will sometimes be your best or only option, you must ensure that you are well-prepared for each termination to protect your business and the rest of your team. To fire well, you must put ample energy into preparing for the termination and getting your documents in order. You should also plan ahead and figure out what you’re going to say, schedule the meeting and inform your witness (as well as HR, if you have an HR Professional) and figure out how you’ll tie off any loose ends in the aftermath of the termination. Along with this, communicating with your team and reflecting on the entire termination will help you continue to build a strong business.
We understand that it can be a complex process, but with the proper planning, you can fire well.
If you have questions or feel uneasy about conducting an impending termination, Castle HR is here to help. We would be happy to chat to see if we can answer some of your questions and help you prepare to tackle this inevitable but stressful task. Book a call today.