The Ethical Way to Fire an Employee

Joe Weinlick
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When you're a manager or a business owner, letting employees go is part of the job. Firing an employee is never fun, either for you or the worker. If you're looking for ways to ease the process, it's helpful to create a set of ethical procedures that help you terminate staff with dignity and humanity.

Double-Check Your Reasoning

Before firing an employee, it's a good idea to do a reality check on your rationale. To start, write a list of your reasons. Then, look them over and see if there's anything else you can do to fix the situation. If the employee is under-performing, can you offer training or guidance? If you're convinced that you've explored every solution, run your list by your legal team. This ensures that you're terminating the worker for legal reasons, so you can reduce the risk of a lawsuit down the road. During the actual termination, this lawyer-vetted list can help you communicate your reasons more effectively.

Offer Fair Warning

Sometimes, firing an employee happens suddenly after an incident. In many cases, however, it's preceded by a number of smaller behavioral or performance-related problems. As an employer, your ethical procedures might include a system of warnings — this lets the employee know that if his behavior continues, termination is the consequence. That way, the employee has a chance to course-correct before it's too late. Be sure to document these warnings and any other pre-firing solutions to create a paper trail.

Handle the Termination Carefully

Firing an employee can be a tightrope walk. If you say too much, you can set your company up for legal troubles. If you say too little, it can make your employee feel disposable and worthless. The ethical solution is to explain your reasons simply and with empathy. It's usually a good idea to have the employee's direct supervisor deliver the news rather than an unfamiliar company executive or HR worker. It can also be helpful to have a friendly but objective witness present during the termination. This comforts the employee and also ensures that if there's legal action down the road, you have someone to attest to your fair and ethical process.

Allow Time and Space

Getting fired is an emotional and often embarrassing experience. When the employee has to gather his belongings and leave immediately, the situation becomes even worse. As a manager, firing an employee is more humane when you offer time and space to ease the pain. You might leave the room to allow the person to recover emotionally, and allow him to clean out his desk after everyone has left for the day.

If you're a manager, firing an employee doesn't have to be an explosive, unkind experience. When you exercise all possible alternatives and make sure to treat the worker like a human being, you can create a more ethical termination process.

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