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How to Fire an Employee Who is UnderperformingUnless you model your management style on Donald Trump’s persona on “The Apprentice,” you probably don’t relish the idea of telling an employee, “You’re fired.” Letting an employee go who isn’t performing well is never an easy task, but it is an important part of being a manager and running an effective workplace.

Listen to the advice from some management and HR experts on the best practices for dismissing an employee in a fair and compassionate way.

4 Tips on How to Fire an Employee

1. Outline performance management guidelines from the beginning.

Make the workplace run more smoothly for you and your employees by clearly stating what they are expected to accomplish and what the measures of success are. If an employee is falling short of these guidelines, don’t put off addressing the problem.

Advice from the New York Times small business blog:

Before I hire people, I have a clear idea of what I want them to do, how their performance will contribute to my success, and under what circumstances I will be unwilling to continue with their employment. In other words, I define boundaries. They are of two sorts: rules having to do with how the employee performs and rules having to do with how the business performs… This constitutes our employee handbook, and, while I wrote it, it has been vetted by labor lawyers. We give two copies of it to new hires, tell them to read it, and then have them sign a receipt saying that they have read and understood it, and that they agree to follow the rules we have laid out.

2. Firing should be the last step in the performance management process.

If you are having problems with an employee, the best approach is to address them early and often before they get worse. Have an honest conversation with the employee and set clear expectations for what must change and when. Outline what the consequences will be if these expectations are not met, and make the employee accountable for changes.

Advice from Inc. Magazine:

Engage the employee in problem-solving, asking questions to ferret out the causes and possible solutions. Give the employee the opportunity to establish a plan of action to turn things around, incorporating milestones and measurable steps toward success. This also gives him ownership of the problem rather than you telling him what needs to be done, which leaves the responsibility on your back. After the employee has been given the opportunity to succeed, and if he has shown himself to be unable or unwilling to make the changes necessary for success, he already should be aware that dismissal is the inevitable result of his inaction or lack of success.

If you do have to fire the employee, he or she should be prepared for it and you will know that you have handled the situation correctly.

Advice from the Ask a Manager blog:

A firing should (almost) never come as a surprise. Ideally, a firing should be the final installment in a conversation that has been ongoing. The employee has been clearly told about the problems and what needs to change, warned that the progress isn’t what it needs to be, and explicitly told that his or her job is in jeopardy if specific changes don’t occur. When the termination conversation happens, it’s more of a wrap-up than anything else; it shouldn’t be a surprise.

3. Know the law and your liability.

Make sure that you are terminating an employee for the right reasons and are not violating any laws. If you have any questions about how to fire an employee or your possible liability in the situation, consult your attorney in advance.

From the FOX Small Business blog:

Both hiring and firing an employee comes with legal responsibilities. Under Equal Employment Opportunity laws, you cannot fire an employee on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and status as an individual with a disability or protected veteran. If your company has over 100 employees and is downsizing significantly, you will have to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN), which requires at least 60 days of advanced written notice to employees.

4. Be clear but kind.

Don’t beat around the bush when you let an employee go. It is bound to be a painful conversation for everyone involved, so don’t make it worse by dragging it out or giving false hope that the outcome can be changed. Be direct and compassionate, and remain calm even if the employee becomes upset or emotional.

Advice from the human resources blog:

Be straight forward. Tell the employee her job is terminated. Tell the employee the reason for the employment termination. Be civil, concise, and compassionate. Respect the person’s dignity. Allow her to speak if she wants to and ask any questions she may have. You may even engage in some discussion about what went wrong in the employment relationship… At no point, however, allow the person to think you might be “talked out of” the decision to terminate her employment.

What is your advice for how to fire an employee? Share your two cents in the comments.

Learn more about EDSI’s performance management courses

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