Terminating employees is the hardest part of being a manager or HR professional. It’s also the most legally dangerous. More lawsuits stem from firings than any other employee interactions.
How can you avoid the anger of fired employees that might later manifest itself as a lawsuit?
Follow these guidelines:
- Keep your cool. Avoid heightening an already emotional situation. Don’t spring the news suddenly, shout names or berate the worker in front of other employees.
- Avoid surprises. Workers should never be completely surprised by a termination. Give your employees regular feedback on their performance, and suggest methods for improvement.At the very least, progressive discipline proves to a court that you had valid reasons for terminating a worker.
- Play by the rules. Follow your established discipline policy. If your handbook says you’ll provide a verbal warning, a written warning and a probationary period, then do each step.Of course, your handbook also should give you the right to immediately terminate workers who engage in serious misconduct. But before skipping progressive discipline, be sure of your facts. It’s not enough to hear rumors of wrongdoing from others. Conduct a thorough investigation, and then ask the employee for his side.
- Watch what you say. Workers will remember whatever you say on the day you fire them—or in the preceding weeks—in the worst possible light. While you should always avoid making statements that could be construed as discriminatory, you should be especially cautious if you may have to fire a worker.
- Don’t be too kind. Sometimes you may feel compassion for a worker you must fire, but don’t express your feelings in the wrong way. If a worker’s performance is substandard, don’t offer compliments on his job performance. Doing so may make you feel better, but it will only infuriate the worker because it will appear that he is being fired for no reason. And that can easily spark a wrongful termination suit.Also, when hiring workers, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Some courts have taken general statements, such as “We hope you’ll be with us a long time,” as a promise of perpetual employment.
- Keep quiet. Don’t discuss your reasons for the termination with other employees. It’s enough to say, “Jamie will not be working with us anymore.” Some employers have spoken too freely about the reasons for a departed worker’s termination, only to find themselves in court defending a defamation of character suit.