DISCLAIMER: This post gives a general overview of employee termination. It is not legal advice, and I am not your attorney. If you require information or advice applied to your unique situation, please make an appointment to discuss it with an attorney in your jurisdiction.
I’ve never met anyone who enjoys firing employees. Understandably, it’s one of the most unpleasant parts of running a business, and the smaller a business is, the more difficult it is likely to be.
If you only have five employees, for example, there’s a good chance you’ve met the family members of these employees. You know the dates of events that matter to them, how they drink their coffee, and their default behaviors under stress. Even when they aren’t getting their jobs done, you like them as people and often avoid confronting them about their poor performance.
Yet they often don’t know you haven’t taken a paycheck in weeks because you have to prioritize paying them.
If their poor performance continues, you will eventually need to choose yourself and your business over them. No matter how frustrated you are with them or how justified you feel in making this difficult decision, it will not be fun to communicate the news. What will you say?
What to Say When Terminating an Employee
Keep it simple. Accept that there is never an easy way to deliver this news or an ideal time. There will be an impact on them, just as there has been an ongoing impact on you and your business.
Once you’ve accepted that there will be an impact, simply tell the employee, “This is not working out. Today is your last day.”
Don’t let an employee commute to work, if they work on-site. Deliver the news early enough to avoid them wasting a trip.
If the employee works remotely, consider the work environment before delivering the news. You might tell them in the middle or at the end of a work day, depending on what will be least disruptive to everyone involved. Regardless of when you do it, make sure you tell them before you cut off their electronic access. Otherwise, they might think there’s a system failure and waste hours trying to fix it, only to learn the real reason they can’t log in. Remember, you’re dealing with a human being.
Handle the Logistics Promptly
Once the employee is aware of the separation that is occurring, arrange for the return of any employer property (e.g., identification badges, keys, laptops, tools, uniforms, vehicles). Also, give them the required notices. In New York, those notices include where to file for Unemployment Insurance benefits and how to continue health insurance coverage, if they get that coverage from you.
Don’t Make a Bad Situation Worse
If the employee asks for an explanation, resist the feeling that you owe one. There’s almost never a reason the employee will accept. They will probably be shocked and hurt, which means their emotions will be high, and their fear responses will be driving them. This is when they will resort to those default behaviors under stress. It’s hard to face ourselves when we are surprised with life-changing news.
Stay neutral and limit your comments to something like, “We both know this is hard. I appreciate you and wish you well in whatever you choose to do next.” It will typically be the best way to get you both out of an uncomfortable situation that could get worse if allowed to continue. Free both of you to process the impact and start planning a journey more compatible with your individual desires and abilities.
Terminating an employee is undoubtedly challenging, but you can minimize the emotional impact and pave the way for a better future for all parties involved by approaching it with:
- Adequate preparation