We can be brutally honest here, and please believe in the uncompromising honesty of this fact: firing an employee is just about as hard as getting fired! Seriously. You, as an employee, may think that the fires of Hell rained on you when that boss called you in to say â€œyou’re done,â€ but I’d wager that it was just as hellish for your boss as it was for you.
No one likes to fire anyone — except for maybe Donald Trump. It’s a necessary evil as an owner you have to be okay with doing. A lot of the difficulty, though, of having to terminate employees is a lot of the legal implications you have to keep an eye on. That’s, yet, another key reason to hire a good business lawyer, specifically with expertise in employment law.
To successfully navigate the legal waters of perilous storms involved with the firings of employees, you have to keep an eye on the port bow, stern and the wheel. Weather the storm. And you’ll still come out on top with only a disgruntled employee walking out your door, possibly calling you a scumbag. Nothing too much to feel bad over, especially when you have justifiable cause to terminate the individual.
So pay close attention. This is what you need to do to successfully let your employees go when it’s time.
Record Every Single Mishap
This is a logical first step, but many CEOs forget to do it. If you’re firing someone, it’s obviously for a reason. Maybe the employee committed theft. Maybe the employee was consistently late, more than three times. It could be anything, as long as it directly relates to what’s in your documented employee manual.
The reason why you’ll want to document everything is to ensure that you have the evidence in the event that such an employee tries to take you to court for wrongful termination. You want to protect yourself. Wrongful termination is a big deal under employment law. Make sure you cover all your bases.
Make That Policy Manual Your Own
At the very least, we hope you didn’t just pull another business’s manual off the internet, making the legwork that much easier. If you did, though, you better have taken the time to tweak the content to match your needs for your business. No manual is perfect.
So if that’s the case, ensure that your manual lists these mandatory legal statements, generally benefiting you in the long run: disclaimers and at-will employment clauses.
You’ll want a disclaimer front and center of the manual, specifically stating that the manual is not a contract of employment. That means none of the provisions listed in the manual won’t actually constitute a binding commitment, rather just a guideline to follow.
The at-will employment clause, too, is important, because it allows you the very best defense against a wrongful termination lawsuit. It allows you the right to terminate employment at will while also allowing the employee the right to quit at will. It emphasizes fairness while ensuring that you’re never taken to court for any reason.
You also should have the right to change the conditions of employment. Be careful about any â€˜promises’ listed in the manual, too. You don’t want anything in there stating that the employee â€œshallâ€ or â€œwillâ€ do anything. Rather, simply state that the employer â€œmayâ€ do whatever your manual will say the employer will do. No promises. Promises can easily be broken.
Get Your Employee’s Signature
Truly binding protection. These written documents have such power. Such is the case for the annual written acknowledgment, a document designed to get an employee to agree to just about anything you’d like to stipulate in a contract. It even covers the affirmation that the employee hasn’t witnessed or experienced any type of harassment, discrimination or wrongdoing at your company. That way, even if the employee accuses you of that, that annual written acknowledgment will say otherwise.
It’s a lot easier than it sounds, but you’ve got to train yourself in it. When you bring that employee in, take a deep breath, and just say it like it is. Don’t get emotional. Don’t apologize. It’s business. Moreover, you especially need to focus on these characteristics:
- Consistency — The basic idea behind this is to ensure that you treat all your employees equally. In other words, don’t fire one employee for eating too many donuts when Wilbur over in the other cubicle, who you have not fired, constantly chows down on long johns like the end of the world is near. That’s discrimination. So be consistent.
- Fire Without Fury — Never terminate an employee out of anger. Even if your decision is justified, it could present a negative image to your company, especially in a court of law. Always wait at least 24 hours before calling the person in. That’ll make sure you have a cool enough head to say those three seemingly unholy words (YOU ARE FIRED).
- Be Honest — Yes, it may make you look like an evil person. But it’s a lot better than the court revealing that you lied about why you fired the person. You don’t want that biting you back in the tail when you had told the individual that the position was, for example, â€œeliminated,â€ when, in fact, the real reason why the person lost the job was because you thought the employee didn’t produce enough revenue or profit. Lying won’t get you far.
- Be Nice— Likewise, the other extreme is something to avoid. Be truthful, but don’t be outright mean. It could lead to defamation claims. Saying that an employee fell asleep at his or her desk constantly is one thing. Saying that the employee was downright lazy could get you in some trouble. So watch your mouth.
Never Be Alone, and Do It Quickly!
That’s not to say that you should be terrified of what the employee might do to you for firing him or her. But expediency is specifically a time management issue. You have a business to run. You don’t want to waste time having to fire someone.
They should always be face to face out of courtesy. Never call in or e-mail a termination. Record the meeting for information and possible court purposes. Always have one or two other associates sitting with you to witness it. They can corroborate what exactly happened just in case the employee falls off the deep end later on with a wrongful termination lawsuit. Above everything else: be swift! Less painful, less torture. And definitely less dramatics.
There Are Just, Unfortunately, Some Days That You Have to Be a â€œMeanieâ€
We’re not perfect. And neither are your employees. You, however, have to minimize the prospect of being sued for firing an associate from your business. These are the tips to ensuring the success of that goal.
Additionally, let’s face it: you cry, feeling like you’re this horrible demonic monster boss for taking away the person’s livelihood, ability to provide for the food at the table, sort of like you’re a veritable Ebenezer Scrooge with a black heart.
But you’re not. You’re a businessman. And you did what you had to do. Let’s just hope you don’t see any Christmas ghosts in your bedroom on the next night!
Author Bio: Matt Faustman is the co-founder and CEO of UpCounsel, a marketplace and distribution platform for legal services. You can follow more of his business insights on Twitter at @UpCounsel.