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A Dull Ax: Firing Dont's

Avoid these missteps to save you and your employee any additional stress.

By Kirk Hulett

Firing an employee is stressful and difficult for all parties involved. You can make this task less stressful by avoiding these mistakes.

Don’t fire someone when you are angry.
It’s easy to allow an offending event—a costly mistake or rude behavior—to get you so mad that you want to terminate the employment of the person who is responsible on the spot. However, reacting when you are angry makes it more likely that the termination will spiral out of control and perhaps even lead to legal action. Instead, allow yourself time to calm down overnight. Then, write down the pros and cons of terminating the employee's employment. Investigate the offending incident to ensure it was truly the employee’s fault. Consider whether there are alternative explanations for the employee’s poor job performance. Once you no longer feel angry and have objectively weighted the facts, make your decision and communicate that decision to the employee.

Don’t fire someone when you’re unprepared.
If you begin the termination-notification meeting unprepared, it is most likely you will make a costly slip-of-the-tongue, create confusion and probably end up not going through with the termination. Before you terminate an employee's employment, write a script to make sure you cover all the things you need to say and say them in a professional manner. Then stick to your script.

You should also have an exit checklist prepared that lists all company-owned property in the employee’s possession, review all benefit-continuation issues and inquire about any outstanding work the employee has. Finally, anticipate questions from the employee and write down your responses in advance. After the meeting, write notes about the interaction, including what you said and what the employee said. Save your notes in case any future legal issues associated with the termination come up.

Firing someone or getting fired is unpleasant, no matter when it is done. Rather, concentrate on how it is done.

Don’t terminate without supporting documentation.
Be sure you have documentation in the form of performance appraisals, complaint letters, notes from performance-counseling sessions, examples of mistakes and errors, etc., that support your decision to terminate the person’s employment.

Don’t fire an employee's appointment in front of other employees.
Terminations must occur in private. It is paramount to respect the dignity of the employee who is being fired.

Don’t let it get personal.
In your termination-notification meeting, refer only to job behaviors or job-related issues. Do not refer to the person’s personality or character and do not assign blame. Instead, state how the employee’s performance differs from the expectations of the job and describe specific incidents of poor performance and the impact they have had on the successful operation of business.

Don’t let the termination discussion linger.
Do not let the employee whose employment has been terminated draw you into a debate about your decision or talk you out of your decision. Notify the employee he is being let go, give a brief explanation of why, review the exit checklist and then give the employee a chance to respond and ask questions.

Don’t terminate an employee's employment alone.
Have a second person in the termination-notification meeting, preferably another advisor or office manager. That way, you have a witness who can verify that no inappropriate behavior or language occurred on your part.

Don’t believe the myths about firing employees.
There is no good day of the week or good time of the day to fire someone. Some articles you read say "never fire on Friday," "always fire on Friday," "fire in the morning" or "fire at the end of the day." All of this is nonsense. Firing someone is unpleasant, no matter when it is done. Rather, concentrate on how it is done: Be professional, be scripted and prepared, do it in private, support it with documentation and focus on job behaviors—not personality.

Kirk J. Hulett is vice president of human resources and practice management for Securities America Financial Corp., in Omaha, Neb. Contact him at

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