You're Fired! 5 Rules For Letting Someone Go

Last Updated Mar 25, 2011 11:50 AM EDT

"You're fired!" might have made Donald Trump's The Apprentice into must-see TV, but in the real world, you need to be more tactical and sensitive. In fact, knowing how to fire someone is a major managerial skill, say HR pros. "All managers have a primary responsibility for the effective operation of their departments. This means having the right people, in the right places, operating at an acceptable level of performance (which includes production, quality, attendance, behavior and relationships with co-workers and customers)," says Terry Henley, CCP, SPHR of the Employers Resource Association. "If employees are not performing acceptably, and serious efforts have been made to improve the employee's performance, it is the manager's responsibility to terminate the employee."

Bungling a dismissal could ruin your reputation (or your company's) and even spur legal action. Here's how to respectfully relieve someone of their job:

Come with Proof of Problems
A paper trail of their shortcomings -- and your attempts to address them -- can cover your legal hide, says David Couper, a career coach, consultant and author. "If the firing is challenged in court, the company and often the manager must be able to substantiate why the person is being fired and prove that this is not discriminatory. There should be a paper trail that matches up with company policy," he continues. One example: "After one verbal warning the next warning is in writing and a third warning results in termination.

"If the company policy is clear, then when the manager terminates the employee he or she should not be surprised."

Do It on a Monday

If you fire someone on a Friday, you might feel better knowing they'll have the weekend to "cool off," but chances are they'll stew and stress. "Do it at the beginning of the week -- this is the time when they can start connecting with people," says Gayle Abbott, president of Strategic Alignment Partners, Inc.
Listen but Stay on Message
If they're fired up, you have to be the extinguisher, and that means listening and responding. However, stick to your company's protocol: "Although you should not use the same script for everyone you should make sure that you do follow a standard procedure and process approved by your HR partners," says Couper. "If it appears that you are saying one thing to one person and something different to another, you could be accused of bias."

And be firm, says Tony Deblauwe of HR4Change: "Never say anything that implies ... that the decision was a mistake, in the spirit of being human. This can lead to legal exposure."

Don't Vent to Colleagues
Having to fire someone can certainly be tough, but it's your burden as a manager. "Don't talk with other people about the firing before you take action, so that the employee already knows. It is not professional," says Couper. If you need guidance or support, HR is there to help.

Be Aware of the Reaction
Especially these days, a job loss can be devastating, so involve HR early to make sure someone who is vulnerable gets the help they need, whether emotional or financial. "The HR professional should help the manager anticipate an employee's reaction and get an understanding of the stability of the employee, whether they are going through personal difficulties, etc.," says Michelle Roccia, senior vice president of organizational development at Winter, Wyman. "A individualized termination plan should be developed taking these things into consideration. For instance, if there are personal or financial problems, offer the employee access to the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP); offer the employee a severance commensurate with their tenure, or other options like outplacement or career assistance to help the employee transition."

Have any other suggestions or thoughts on the practice of firing? Please sign in below and share. And for more career advice, follow @MWOnTheJob on Twitter.
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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

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