You’re Fired

Terminate employees the right way and protect your business

One of the less appealing aspects of running a business is firing employees. Not only can the confrontation be risky, but there is also the chance the employee will pursue a wrongful-termination lawsuit. However, the right steps can ensure you can not only let the employee go with professionalism and respect, but also protect your business.

Bill Ringle, president of System Ringle, a business-building firm in Carlsbad, Calif., says he believes every new employee should be put under a probationary period upon hiring. He recommends an intentional 30-, 60- and 90-day review protocol, in which expectations are clearly communicated at the outset. “As this is a probationary period, there should be no legal issues if it doesn’t work out,” Ringle says.

He also recommends never saving up criticism for a performance review. “Anything said to an employee at a review session should have been communicated repeatedly to the employee over the past weeks and months,” Ringle says. Poor performance needs to be communicated clearly both verbally and in writing. Set and communicate expectations for improvement and conduct monthly reviews to measure progress.

Theodora Sergiou, vice president of Nicholas Pools, Inc. in Toms River, N.J., says she believes a manager or owner should not fire someone without first providing an opportunity for correction (except with extreme cases, such as unethical or illegal activity). 

“They should try and remain calm in stressful situations and discuss issues and possible resolutions with the employee first,” she says. “Have a meeting to find out why they are having issues and then perhaps offer suggestions, job retraining or another way of helping them better perform at their job. If there are issues at home, you may work out an alternate schedule or even give the employee a leave of absence to allow them to solve the problem and then return to work.”

Ringle adds that helping employees continue to learn — or perhaps switch positions — is part of the how he or she succeeds at work. “This may also be a case for finding a better fit for them in the company,” he says. “Most companies can use someone who is reliable, conscientious and has a good attitude. Is there a position better suited for them?”

Genie Pool and Spa in San Jose, Calif., has a different approach for weeding out unreliable employees. Company president Dick Nichols recommends setting a “magic number” for complaints per employee — because even the best get some complaints — to determine where a problem may lie.

“We give monthly bonuses for getting no complaints,” Nichols says. “If the employee isn’t getting the bonus, you have a problem. We will put the employee on probation, setting a maximum number of complaints allowed over a set period of time. And we let the employee know he will be let go if he exceeds that number.”

Document all incidents regarding that employee, and give a written warning — with a copy in the employee file — anytime there is an issue. “The best way to let an employee go is to prepare with documentation that shows you tried to warn them to improve, but they did not,” Sergiou says. Once an employer has this information, he will not fear letting go of an employee when the time comes to do so, she says: “If you have proper documentation, then you have nothing to worry about.”

Ringle says it’s important to steer clear of personal attacks. “Your approach must be ‘I like you, but I do not like what you did or how you handled that task,’ ” he says. Nichols adds that the heat of the moment is never the right time to fire someone. “Always put off any action until you have a chance to think about your choices — usually over night,” he says. When Nichols lets someone go, he has the senior service manager join the meeting — and then they both sign a document detailing what occurred.

“If you must terminate someone, do not let it drag on for months,” Ringle says. “Identify the performance problem, state how you have tried to train or help them improve, and just say it’s not working. The less said, the better.”

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