ICS Magazine

To Your Success: Saying Goodbye With Respect and Dignity

August 1, 2006
"For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap."
--Galations 6: 7

Make your goodbye as professional and painless as possible.


"For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap."
--Galations 6: 7

It's time. You know it. Your employee knows it. For whatever reason he or she is no longer happy or performing the job well (the two are obviously related). In other words, it is time for you to say goodbye. So just how should your fire an employee legally while at the same time showing him or her respect and dignity?

Above all else, follow a legally approved, step-by-step system. It is a sad commentary on our legal system that before we can focus on an individual's dignity and feelings, we need to consider the legalities. But so it is. In a country where even attorneys agree that there are far too many lawyers, you must tread extremely carefully in the hiring/firing legal minefield. What to do?

Each state has its own regulations. Check out your state's web sites on employment issues, call your local employment office and ask them for written resources on what is legal. If you can get a local bureaucrat to take a personal interest in your plea, "I want do what is right but I don't know what right is," so much the better (your local chamber of commerce or business network may also have information available.). Then, using the state's language as a guide, write out your own step-by-step procedure for deciding on and informing an employee of the firing decision.

Next, and this is extremely important, you must have a local attorney experienced in labor law review the document you have produced (your attorney may have a "firing template" available to help you for a reasonable fee.). However, don't ask your attorney to actually research and write up this information. Your legal bills will be astronomical if the lawyer does the grunt work.

You say you can't afford an attorney? Try being sued in an unfair termination lawsuit and preventive legal services will look like a super bargain! It should not be incredibly expensive for your lawyer to check out your hiring and firing procedures. Legal review of your employee procedures is absolutely essential. Note: If you just flat out don't have the funds, attorneys are usually extremely receptive to trading out services.

Don't do it emotionally. Given the stakes mentioned above, it is vital that you be calm, rational and dispassionate in your dealings with your soon to be ex-employee. Never fire an employee when you are angry. If the employee's actions are so outrageous that they pose a risk to your customers or other employees, tell him that he is suspended from current work pending a 24-hour review of his case. This gives both sides a time-out and a chance to calmly consider the situation. (As in all employee procedures, check your state's laws.)

Don't preach. It is just so tempting to verbally beat up your culprit employee. After all, this loser has cost you a lot of time, money and emotional agony. My guess is you are looking forward to "giving them a piece of your mind!" But please, don't do it. When the decision has been made to terminate someone's employment, the time for recriminations is past. Instead, you should...

Say as little as possible. Be kind, respectful and direct. Inform them that it has been decided to terminate their employment. Thank your worker for their services and wish them the best. Don't editorialize (see No. 2 above) and don't reminisce.

The longer you talk and the more you say, the greater the chance that emotions will heat up on one or both sides. You also increase your risk of saying something that may hurt you legally down the road. Plus, since this individual is soon to be an ex-employee, unnecessary time spent with them is basically wasted. Invest your valuable time working with your new hire, where it at least has a chance of giving you a return!

"You scratch my back..." Now you need to calmly and dispassionately agree on the logistical details. If your state law allows it, try for the old quid pro quo, as in, "Charlie, when you bring in your company tools, uniforms, manuals and any other company equipment, I'll have your final check ready for you. When do you think you can do this?" (Human resource experts agree that if an employee is bad enough to fire you want them out of the business immediately.)

Treat them with extreme respect and dignity. The very best defense against workplace violence (not to mention unfair termination lawsuits) is to treat everyone exactly the way you would like to be treated. (Even if in your opinion they don't deserve it!) Speak calmly, keep your voice low and measured, use words like "please" and "thank you" and maintain a non-threatening physical posture.

Move on. Firing an employee is one of the hardest things a manager will ever have to do (of course, it will be even worse to let this marginal individual continue in your company- alienating customers and infecting good employees with his bad attitude!). So work on dumping the negative emotional baggage loaded on you by this situation. In addition, help your employees move on. While they very likely will see the need to fire this person, they also may have been friends.

All of us dread making the "termination decision," and not just to avoid the inevitable emotional confrontation. Even more difficult is facing up to the need to find and train a replacement, who may wind up being even worse than your departing employee. Far too many small business owners and managers make their employee decisions based on fear. It is no fun being "held hostage" by your employees.

Possibly your most important task as a manager is forming a team of quality people, all focused on achieving a common business vision and having fun while doing so. Once you have a lineup of good people waiting for the chance to join your team, you will no longer be afraid to fire the ones who don't measure up. Just remember to say "goodbye" with respect and dignity.