As an empathetic leader, I couldn’t help but cringe when I read how Better.com let go of 900 employees…over Zoom. Not only is this a PR nightmare. It can drain morale and create a toxic work environment.
But, could it get any worse? Well, here’s what an employee, who wasn’t fired, had to say about the experience to Business Insider.
“You’re the lucky ones,” CEO Vishal Garg told them. “Garg said the people he laid off had been low performers — and then he set the bar even higher for those of us left, telling us it was time to work even harder than before,” the employee added. “It was pretty scary to hear that from someone who had just fired 900 people.”
“This wasn’t my first time being at a company going through layoffs, but this one was different,” they stated. “There was absolutely no warning, and in the aftermath, Garg belittled the laid-off workers to the rest of us and told us there would be no second chances from now on. The whole thing was demoralizing.”
“Since the layoffs, everyone has been on edge,” the employee elaborated. “We’re all looking behind our backs, expecting to get fired next. It’s not a healthy environment.”
While the optics are bad, we don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors. So maybe Garg did have a valid reason for letting these employees go. In my opinion, though, he went about it the wrong way.
Why you might have to let an employee go.
One of the most challenging decisions we have to make is to part ways with a team member as a leader. Of course, sometimes, this is inevitable. Examples would be incidents of;
- Acts of discrimination
- Assault and harassment
- Criminal activity
- Lack of competence
- Constant absenteeism
While the hiring process is intended to weed out unprofessional individuals, sometimes they slip through the cracks. And, in some cases, they may not actually display these characteristics until they’ve settled into their roles.
Additionally, you may have to downsize to improve efficiency or reduce costs. Or, you may have to pivot and change direction to respond to market changes.
Whatever the reason, if terminating an employee is inevitable, here are seven tips to carry this out gracefully and ethically.
1. Offer opportunities for improvement beforehand.
When an employee’s performance is in question, the chances are that a series of events have led you to need to make this difficult decision. That’s why it’s recommended that you might frequently consult with each member of your team individually to discuss their progress and offer feedback on where they can make improvements. You may also want to conduct performance reviews twice a year.
Generally, termination should only be the last option if the employee has violated the company’s policies. However, an employee can use a performance improvement plan (PIP) instead of firing them. This can help them track their progress, reach their goals, or discourage destructive workplace behaviors.
If you’re unsure whether your employee is performing well, ask your other team members for their perspective. For example, you could ask them about their attendance if they’ve missed deadlines or have difficulty communicating or collaborating with others.
If you document other members of the team’s experiences, this strengthens your case for why and how an employee must improve. In short, employees should never be caught off-guard when it comes to being fired. Instead, you should give them a chance to improve.
2. Inform human resources of the employee’s behavior.
The Human Resources department should be informed of all actions taken before terminating an employee. At the minimum, this should include implementing an improvement plan and how the employee progresses. In addition, documentation provides evidence and reasons for an employee’s termination by tracking the employee’s incidents and behavior.
HR can ensure that termination is a fair decision and that the proper procedures and protocol are followed. It’s also essential for both employees and the workplace that termination procedures comply with state and company requirements.
3. Create a transition plan.
“Choose the day and the time for the termination deliberately,” advises management consultant and author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals Dick Grote. “While experts disagree on when a firing should occur, all acknowledge the importance of having a rationale — a good business reason for your choice of time and day for dropping the ax.”
“Doing it early in the day, early in the week, encourages the employee to get right to work on finding another job,” he adds. Furthermore, this reduces the chances of them spending the weekend planning revenge. “Friday afternoons, on the other hand, often create the minimum amount of disruption to the rest of the staff,” stays Grote.
Whatever your decision, always put your company interests first. You probably put up with a subpar performance for months hoping the situation would somehow improve. As the end nears, make sure that the transition goes seamlessly not to harm the company or your colleagues.
“Check the succession plan for an internal candidate,” he suggests. For example, if you need to terminate someone, you may want to start recruiting and wait until you find a replacement. Sending these subtle hints to clients, customers, and even your team that staffing changes are imminent could ultimately work in your favor.
4. Be clear and concise.
When it comes to firing an employee, winging it is never the best course of action. You need to know actually what to say and how you’ll deliver the news. That’s why it’s suggested that you also practice the conversation you will have with the employee.
“Make sure you know exactly why you’re firing a worker, have specific examples, and bring the proper documentation, writes Kathryn Vasel over at CNN. “That includes copies of performance reports, any write-ups, and applicable financial forms like unemployment insurance and health insurance and 401(k) options.”
You should be clear and firm about the termination and the next steps. “There is no room or need to get into a protracted discussion,” said Dan Ryan, founder of Ryan Search & Consulting. “It is what it is; there is no productive discussion that can take place after.”
5. Don’t humiliate the employee.
“If I must fire an employee, I treat them with dignity because I don’t want to humiliate them,” writes Mike Kappel, founder, and CEO of Patriot Software, LLC in Forbes. “I will always fire someone in private behind closed doors.”
“Employment termination isn’t just bad for that individual— it’s also bad for the other employees,” he adds. “Other employees don’t know if or when they’re going to be on the chopping block.”
It’s also possible for your employees to have relationships with the fired employee, such as being friends outside of the workplace. As such, you could “risk draining the morale of the others if you fire someone in front of” the entire team.
He suggests it might be a good idea to fire the employee after the other employees have left for the day. In that case, the terminated employee does not have to leave their office (or wherever you fired them) in front of their coworkers.
Always have a witness.
“When you need to fire an employee, you and someone from Human Resources should be the only two people in the room with them,” Kappel continues. “If you don’t have an HR department or representative, grab a witness, like a trusted employee or even your business’s lawyer if applicable.”
In the event that the employee sues you, having someone else in the room with you is imperative. Why? Because this individual can confirm your firing of the employee was legal and ethical.
During the termination of an employee, a police escort may be appropriate in very rare situations. That may sound excessive. But, if you feel that they may become aggressive or violent, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“I once had to fire an employee with a police escort,” recalls Kappel. “She threatened to beat up another employee.” She also engaged in cage fights on weekends. So, when the officer arrived, the employee was let go — and thankfully without incident.
6. Keep documentation of the entire process.
Documentation is essential for the company’s reference — both during the termination process and afterward. These documents may include records such as a written notice of termination. As a rule of thumb, you should always document any actions taken, such as implementing a Performance Improvement Plan and its results, before firing an employee.
In general, the more documentation you have, the more straightforward this process can be? Why? Because it ensures that all work procedures are followed based on your employee handbook and pertinent labor laws. And, if the employee dispute the firing, you can use these documents to validate your decision.
7. Handle paperwork and tie up any loose ends.
In addition to termination documents, you should also bring the employee’s final paycheck with you. If you offer a severance package, explain what’s included. Review any noncompete or nondisclosure agreements with the employee, along with if they’ll continue receiving benefits like health insurance.
“After learning of the termination, the employee will most likely feel confused and upset,” writes Amy DelPo, attorney, for NOLO. Prepare to assist the employee by answering questions such as;
- “Do I work the rest of the day or leave immediately?”
- “When can I collect my belongings?”
- “Do my coworkers know this is happening?”
- “What should I tell my clients?”
- “I have appointments scheduled for the rest of the week; what should I do about those?”
It would also be helpful if you developed a plan for ongoing work before the meeting to address the following;
- Are these projects going to be assigned to someone else?
- Are there any tasks the employee needs to complete?
- Is the employee required to assist with the transition?
What to do after terminating an employee.
The following steps may be necessary after firing an employee. However, doing so may avoid terminating another employee or helping the department fill the vacant position.
- Educating employees about workplace expectations. You can accomplish this by sharing employee handbooks and having one-on-one meetings. As a result, this could be enough to prevent additional firings.
- Keeping employees in the loop. The law outlines specific guidelines about when and how to discuss an employee’s termination. However, being transparent about an employee’s termination openly and discussing any behavior that may still exist within the workplace will discourage rumors from being spread.
- Posting a new job to fill the existing position. Reassign tasks to other employees after terminating an employee’s employment, or have managers temporarily take on those tasks to account for the departed employee. To avoid overburdening other employees with work and responsibilities, create a new job posting for the vacant position as soon as possible.
- Strengthening your existing team. Host team-building activities if you need to bolster morale and encourage team bonding. You could also celebrate your team’s achievements or have some fun in the workplace, like throwing a pizza party.
Image Credit: Yan Krukov; Pexels; Thank you!