Human Resources News & Insights

Fire without fear: 7 questions managers must answer

You know how careful a company needs to be when an employee is fired. But managers sometimes jump the gun and create legal risks. These questions can help guide them through the termination process:

  1. Are all the facts documented? This is the most obvious one — but it’s important enough that it should always be asked.
  2. How have similar cases been handled? As HR pros know, an easy way to end up in court is to have a manager give a slap on the wrist for something and then fire someone else for the same reason. Sometimes there’s good reason for different treatment. Find out what happened to others in the same situation — and why.
  3. What are you going to tell the employee? The explanation given to a fired employee should be planned beforehand. Managers might try to soften the blow and give the employee something other than the real reason — but if the company doesn’t have its story straight, he or she might be convinced some kind of bias played a role.
  4. How are you going to tell him or her? Seasoned managers have likely fired folks before, but less-experienced supervisors might not know how best to handle it. HR should give a brief refresher on how to conduct a termination meeting.
  5. What’s the employee’s story? In some cases the employee might have legally protected reasons for not meeting the standards set by the company. Hearing the employee’s explanation can help you and the manager learn if you have any obligations under ADA, FMLA or other applicable laws.
  6. What does the policy say? Not every termination is the result of a direct violation of a written policy. But if a manager takes action that contradicts what’s said in the handbook, that might be asking for trouble. Employees have sued because they were fired before going through the disciplinary procedures listed in the handbook.
  7. Will the employee be surprised? Find out what action has already been taken, and if the employee’s been given a chance to improve. Except in rare cases, a termination shouldn’t be an absolute shock to an employee, and can give them reason to cry “bias.”
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