Firings may cause employees to cry, become defensive or even turn violent. Others may try to distort what happens during your firing meeting to justify a lawsuit against you.
To protect yourself legally, have someone else with you during the termination meeting so that no one can question what you say. Write a memo after the meeting summarizing what happened and have the witness sign it.
Here are the top six mistakes managers make when they have to terminate an employee. Any one of them can cause a costly trip to court when the employee sues.
1. Losing your cool
Avoid heightening an already-emotional situation. Don't spring the news suddenly or berate the employee in front of others.
2. Taking the employee by surprise
Employees should never be completely surprised by a termination. Give them regular feedback on performance and suggest ways for them to improve. At the very least,reviews prove to a court that you had valid reasons for firing someone.
3. Playing fast and loose with 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. Of course, your handbook also should give you the right to terminate workers immediately if they engage in serious misconduct. But before skipping, be sure of your facts. It’s not enough to hear rumors of wrongdoing from others. Conduct a thorough investigation, then ask the employee for his side.
4. Shooting from the hip
On the day you fire someone, he or she will remember whatever you say in the worst possible light. While you should always avoid making discriminatory statements, be especially cautious during a termination meeting.
5. Trying to soften the blow
You may feel compassion for the person you must fire, but don't express your feelings in the wrong way. If the employee's performance is substandard, don't offer compliments on any aspect of his performance. Doing so might make you feel better, but it will only give the employee cause to question and challenge your reasons for terminating him. And your off-handed compliments could turn up as evidence against you in a wrongful-termination suit.
6. Broadcasting the news
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 managers have spoken too freely about the reasons for a departed employee's termination, only to find themselves in court defending themselves against a defamation-of-character suit.