How to Sack an Employee – good practice in firing a person ethically

Firing an Employee – The Seven Steps of good management practice

Dismissing an employee can be difficult and has to be done carefully with consideration and following the rules. One can be very cavalier and not worry about the consequences but how this task is done is important not just for the person who will be leaving but for those who remain working for you. A poorly managed dismissal can break the trust and loyalty employees have for the organisation so its not just the employee going you have to worry about. Just as any management task it needs to be done well and although an emotionally charged job a competent manager can carry out this onerous duty whilst maintaining integrity and being seen as fair. Often managers who do this do not understand their own emotional responses and respond by being abrupt and aggressive – this is to be avoided. The process must be clear and legitimate and this will ensure that procedural justice is seen to be carried out and keeps focus on the issue of poor performance not on the people concerned.

Firstly you can dismiss an employee on one of the following grounds:

Conduct – including poor work related conduct with clients as well as you and the other staff

Capability – Insufficient qualification to do the job although this must be carefully managed and you must set down clear guidelines in a draft policy how this should be done (if you are in a sales environment for example its often best to set out performance criteria right at the start and monitor against them and discuss improvement objectives for example early on)

Legality – for example losing a driving licence if driving was a substantial element in the performance of the job

Redundancy – the work for which the person was employed has dried up or has been outsourced

Other substantial reasons – which is the catch-all for anything not covered by the above but is also a minefield as it has to be grounded in some substantive issue related to the job.

You cannot dismiss and employee of whatever service duration on any grounds of discrimination real or implied. If you feel that a dismissal is necessary follow a clear procedure to avoid any possible implications of a discriminatory nature. You should be aware that if you do not follow the correct procedure then in some countries you may put yourself liable for unfair dismissal proceedings which can leave you open to large amounts of compensation which in the case of a small business can be disastrous.

First rule of a disciplinary case is document everything in writing – even if you think it is an open and shut case it is good management practice to set things down so that if necessary these notes can be referred to should the need arise.

If an employee has been with you more than 12 months the following procedure would normally apply

The Seven Step Process:

1.0 Inform the person who is underperforming that you would like to have a meeting to discuss their performance as things are not going well (for example).
2.0 Tell the person the grounds for concern up front so they have had time to prepare – no ambushes and tell them they can be accompanied by a friend or union rep – if they chose bring along a relative make sure you are also supported just in case things get heated. You must tell the employee they have the right of appeal at any stage – if possible to another senior partner or independent person.
3.0 Hold the review meeting at your offices – reserve an office and ensure that all calls are held and you are not disturbed. Go through and explain the reasons for taking the action – state clearly that this meeting is about unacceptable performance and list out the issues. Allow the person their say – there will be defence obviously listen politely but be firm in your resolve. If this is a final meeting inform the person in clear terms that they are dismissed – leave no room for misunderstanding use a form of words like ‘ I have decided to terminate your employment’.
4.0 If this is not the final meeting in most cases it is advisable to agree a review period to give the person the opportunity to improve performance. Agree this review period and state what must be achieved by that time.
5.0 Document this meeting with the grounds and issues of concern and the agreed actions and send this in a letter to the person concerned copied to the HR department.
6.0 Hold the agreed follow-up review meeting and go through what has been achieved (or not) – hold the meeting even if performance has improved to your satisfaction and set down a new period of review to show the performance improvement is maintained.
7.0 Document this meeting in detail and copy to the HR Department to place outcome on file.

Common mistakes to be avoided.

* You need the document trail just in case you do end up in an unfair dismissal process – copy the documents to your advisor.
* A clear policy covering expected conduct, rules, dismissal procedures and performance requirements are a must no matter how small the company.
* Not applying the procedures to employees with less than one year’s service – they can suggest you fired them on unlawful grounds and claim compensation (you may have to settle because the cost of fighting it could be exorbitant when lawyers are involved! ).
* Failure to invite employees to disciplinary hearings in writing or supply adequate evidence before the disciplinary hearing – they are entitled to notice of the nature of the grievance in advance and a right of appeal
* Not appreciating the statutory requirement to proceed with each stage of the procedure without undue delay under UK law.
* Failure to appreciate that an employee may have right to appeal even if it is requested verbally rather than in writing and is after a timescale set down by the employer – not hearing grievances raised after termination of employment has occurred for example (be careful of this one if a letter is received even quite some time after the employee has left)

Of course there are circumstances where the above procedure can be truncated, for example in cases of gross misconduct but overall make sure you have a transparent procedure in place and you cannot go wrong.

Dismissing an employee is a task a manager will have to do at some time in her career and although a difficult and emotional time can be managed as long as a clear process is in place. It is very tempting to be bullish and ‘fire people’ as a sign of macho management but as well as holding the organisation potentially liable is poor practice and an indication of low management competence. Besides letting people go in a nonthreatening and honorable way, enabling them to leave with dignity, and allowing them to rationalize the process is good management style and a sign of stewardship for the people who work for you.


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