5 Things You Need to Know Before You Fire an Employee

Firing an employee is a difficult but sometimes necessary part of being a small business owner. There are several factors that can make firing one of your staff an uncomfortable proposition, but the more you know about job termination beforehand, the less painful the process will be -- for you and for the person you have to let go.

Some Employees are Better Suited for Other Positions

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There might not be a lot of room in a small business for job mobility. However, reassigning an employee's duties might be a viable alternative to firing. Consider whether or not firing is the only option.

Some Classes of Workers Are Protected

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You're not alone if you're afraid that an employee might try to sue you for wrongful termination. Plenty of owners and managers keep employees on the payroll despite having legitimate reasons for firing because employers would rather avoid a lawsuit.

It's true that there are state and federal laws in place to protect workers from things like discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and disability. Firing someone for any of these reasons is illegal. That's why it's important to base firing decisions only on the employee's performance and establish uniform policies for all workers.

Make sure to document, discuss and work to correct problems as soon as they become an issue. If the employee's performance doesn't improve, it's usually best to end the employer-employee relationship sooner rather than later. Finally, if you're unsure of what to do, seek the advice of a legal professional.

A Tendency Toward Violence Should Not Be Ignored

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Your best bet is to have a no-tolerance policy for dealing with things like intimidation, threats, and violence in the workplace. If you are worried that firing an employee will provoke violence, you might opt to write a termination letter rather than have a face-to-face confrontation. For legal reasons, make sure you have an attorney review or draft the termination letter.

If you do have a face-to-face meeting to fire an employee, make sure that a neutral third party is there. Owners and managers should remain calm, collected and composed if the employee becomes hostile. Have someone escort the employee to clean out his things, and select a time that is least likely to create a scene.

Don't Skip the Exit Interview

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Exit interviews don't just help with feedback about operations at your small business; they can also bring to light issues with management, employees, and concerns about working conditions and pay. Fired employees are more likely to tell you the blunt truth than employees who resign, so never skip the opportunity to get feedback.

Furthermore, exit interviews provide documentation that can be helpful if you are ever sued for wrongful termination. The employee may concede points in an exit interview that can be used in your defense, particularly if she admits to poor performance on the job.

Be Prepared

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Before you fire anyone, you should have your ducks in a row. Understand how the event will be carried out from start to finish. You should be able to answer questions like: How and when will you collect property like keys or electronics from the employee? What will you say when the employee asks about the last paycheck?

It's also very common for employees to ask why they have been fired. Prepare for this question and remember to use documented examples of poor performance. If you try to wing this portion of the conversation, you could inadvertently say something that could get you into hot water later.

Firing an employee isn't a fun part of a small business owner's job, but it is something that every owner or manager should be equipped to handle. Knowing these things will help you protect your business and your employees.