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How to Take a Kinder Approach to Firing Employees

As an HR professional, if you’ve ever had to fire someone, you know this is one of the hardest parts of the job. However, every good business leader knows that sometimes the best decision for a company is to dismiss an employee. In fact, according to a Harris poll, nearly 40 percent of Americans have lost their job before. 

Employees report that being treated with respect is something they need and want from their employer. In fact, employees say that appreciation and recognition, as well as the opportunity for development, learning and growth, are less important than their need for respect. 

Even if an employee isn’t working out, it’s essential to treat them with respect. Here are some tips for terminating an employee with integrity and compassion.

Opportunities for Improvement

Companies should have two different types of employee termination: attitude-based and performance-based. If an employee is failing to meet clear job criteria, management and HR must set employees up for success. Employees need to be aware of any performance issues, and management needs to help set expectations for a solution. 

Employees need a clear timeline to improve performance – between 30 to 90 days – and management should regularly check-in to gauge their performance. Break down goals into more manageable milestones. However, if an employee has shown no improvement by the end of the probationary period, it’s acceptable to have a hard termination conversation. 

If an employee has a poor attitude, this can quickly evolve into a toxic workplace for other employees. One bad employee that has a negative attitude can soon corrupt and poison an entire team. Management can still be respectful and say, “Is there something going on? When you act this way, your attitude impacts our entire company and your coworkers.” 

Consider Alternatives

If someone is unhappy, see if they would be happier somewhere else in the company. Sometimes an employee is burned out and would prefer a new career. If an employee has a strong skill set, this might be an excellent option. 

No matter what happens, HR and managers must document everything to ensure they are complying with termination laws. You may also have to prove later that employees weren’t working out, and other steps were taken before terminating their employment. Teach management to take detailed notes about problem employees, listing specific attitude or performance issues in writing. Remember to document all behavior and performance issues, as these are needed to help minimize potential legal risks.

Ensure Termination is Handled Correctly 

Before management fires an employee, make sure they consult with HR. A termination plan must be in place to help ensure that the company is following all procedures and legal requirements when terminating an employee. 

Be Transparent

If a company exhausts all their options, and they need to let an employee go, it’s best to be detailed and precise. Explain when they will receive their final paycheck, severance pay, returning company property and how benefits will be terminated. Stand firm and don’t give them the impression you may change your mind. Transparency is a critical component when it comes to terminating an employee.


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