How to Terminate an Employee

There are a lot of people who cringe at the thought of terminating someone. And when I say terminating – I mean firing. Not a layoff because in most cases, employees don’t have control over a layoff decision. My philosophy is employees play an active role in the decision to get themselves fired.

That’s why I never (let me repeat that) never feel bad about terminating an employee. Because I didn’t tell them to do whatever they did to get themselves terminated.  I didn’t tell them to show up late for work.  I didn’t tell them to surf porn sites on company time.  The employee made the decision to do these things and they have to accept responsibility for their actions.

If management is doing their job, then employees know what is expected of them. They also know when they aren’t meeting expectations. I’ve had employees shake my hand after being fired. Why? Because they knew it was coming and the conversation was done with dignity. It’s when employees don’t know what’s expected or managers don’t hold employees accountable that discipline and terminations become surprises.  And no one likes those kinds of surprises.

Speaking of management, let me add that I believe it’s the responsibility of an employee’s immediate supervisor to deliver the termination message. Not human resources. Now realistically speaking, does someone from HR usually end up in the room while the termination meeting is being conducted…yep. But the supervisor should say the words, not HR.  It’s really unfortunate when HR has to intervene during a termination conversation (and I’ve had to do it plenty of times) because a supervisor is botching things up.  Managers should be given the proper training to deliver these kinds of tough messages.

I know this message might sound really harsh, but with continued talk about unemployment and skills gaps…I don’t feel bad about holding people accountable. There are so many qualified, talented people looking for work.

Being disciplined, suspended or even terminated shouldn’t be a surprise. Encourage managers to set expectations, coach for performance and hold people accountable. If you do everything you can, then if a termination conversation does take place, you can rest easy knowing that you did everything possible to make the employee successful.

P.S. In part two of this post, one of my labor attorney friends weighs in on the subject of involuntary terminations. You can check it out on HR Bartender.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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