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How to Fire Unproductive Employees

Even when you have ample cause for doing so, firing employees is difficult — not only for the employees losing their jobs and the supervisors making the decision, but for co-workers as well.

You can do only so much to ease the pain and disruption that firings create. You can do a great deal, however, to help ensure that your company’s approach to firing protects the dignity and rights of the employee and protects your company from legal and/or retaliatory action by a former employee.

The standard practice in most companies is for the immediate supervisor to deliver the termination notice. The message should be delivered in person and in a private location. It can be beneficial for the company to have a third person also attend the meeting, such as another supervisor or member of the HR department. (Some union contracts require the presence of a third person, such as a union official.)

Regardless of why an employee is leaving your company, keep the termination meeting as conclusive as possible. This is a one-way meeting, in which a conclusion about the employee’s termination is communicated and not up for challenge or reconsideration. The following list covers some issues to consider:

  • Legal notices that must be given to terminating employees: Some states impose obligations on employers to furnish certain information to employees upon their termination, such as written notice of the change in the employment relationship, information related to unemployment benefits, and conversion rights related to group insurance policies.

  • Final payment: Ideally, any employee being dismissed should walk out of the termination meeting with a check that covers everything he is entitled to, including severance and accrued, unused vacation benefits.

  • Security issues: Think about company security, including keys, building or facility access cards, and company credit cards. Prepare your IT department in advance as to when to deactivate the employee’s logins and passwords and access to company systems and files.

  • Company-owned equipment: Be prepared to ask the employee to return any company-owned equipment immediately. If the equipment is off-site, arrange for its pickup or for it to be sent back to the company in prepaid packaging to make it easy for the former employee to send you back your valuables.

  • Workplace violence or aggravated behavior: You may want to contact your building’s security services, if such services exist, to inform them that a termination is occurring and that you’ll let them know if you need assistance.

  • Extended benefits information: If your company is subject to COBRA regulations, you’re generally obligated to extend the employee’s medical coverage — with no changes — for 18 months. Make sure that you provide all the information the employee needs to keep the coverage going.

  • Also, prepare in advance so you can resolve all questions regarding an employee’s 401(k), pension, or stock plan during the meeting, providing up-to-date information on what options, if any, the employee has regarding those benefits. Otherwise, advise the employee of the name and contact information of your benefits representative so he can obtain this information after the meeting.

  • Notification of outplacement or other support mechanisms: If your company has set up outplacement arrangements (or any services designed to help terminated employees find another job), provide all the relevant information, including company brochures and the level of services the company provides.

The news should be delivered as soon as the termination meeting starts, immediately after opening greetings are exchanged. Employees being discharged have the right to be told why the decision was made, even if you’ve had a previous discussion about problems and infractions. Tact and sensitivity are important, but so is honesty. Don’t try to fill in awkward silences, and don’t apologize for taking this step.

Remind managers that whatever they say during the termination interview can come back to haunt your company in a wrongful discharge or similar lawsuit. Managers should be trained to state the specific reason for the company’s termination decision and not offer additional explanation.

Keep any discussion of the employee’s shortcomings brief — one or two sentences at most.

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