How to Fire an Employee

As an employer, you occasionally face the unpleasant task of having to fire an employee. Not only is this a delicate process on a human level, the process must be handled carefully from a legal standpoint as well.  If you have questions or concerns about how to fire an employee, consult an attorney.

Employment at Will
The first step in terminating an employee is to understand state and federal laws regarding terminating employees. Laws may vary, but most states require that you show just cause for termination. In addition, federal laws prohibit firings due to age, race, pregnancy, religion and gender.

You might consider having new hires sign an employment-at-will statement, which is countersigned by a representative of your company before a copy is given to the employee. An employment-at-will statement says that your new hire can leave their position whenever he or she wants without notice. It also states that you as the employer can fire the employee for any legal reason.

It is important to include your employment-at-will information on your job applications and in your employee handbook, which should also include all of your company's rules. If a rule is not in the handbook, you may not be able to fire an employee for violating that regulation.

Avoid making an implied contract when hiring a new employee. An example of an implied contract would be a verbal assurance that a new hire will enjoy employment as long as he or she does the job he or she was hired for. You want to be protected in the event that an economic downturn forces you to lay off staff despite excellent performance.

Understanding Just Cause
Having a signed employment-at-will document will not completely protect your company however. For the last few decades, courts have been swinging more in favor of just cause as opposed to employment-at-will. Understanding what just causes are for termination can help protect your company against lawsuits. You may be able to fire an employee for:

  • Ignoring or violating known company policies
  • Consistently performing lower than expectations
  • Being consistently late or tardy without reasonable explanation
  • Providing false information on employment applications

In addition, you can lay off an employee due to a downturn in business conditions.


While just cause may seem straightforward, you can't fire an employee for simply not following company rules. You need to document the employee's violations as well as discuss them with your errant hire. Another way of looking at this is that you are actually giving your employee, in whom you have already spent time and money, the opportunity to improve and stay working with your organization.

Documentation
If you have a problem employee, plan to meet with him or her and discuss to the performance issues as well as how these issues should be addressed or corrected in the future as well as any timeframe in which you expect resolution. Be open to listening to any concerns the employee has and document everything discussed in the meeting.

If the employee continues to violate company policy, the next step for many companies is a written warning. Again, discuss the problem or problems involved and the insufficient improvement on your employee's part. Failing any demonstrated improvement, your next step is to terminate the employee.

Termination Meeting
It is important to plan the termination meeting with care. You may want to consider having another person be involved to be a witness, such as another manager in your company.

Have the termination meeting in a private area that will minimize your employee's exposure to other personnel soon after the final infraction, sometime within two weeks. Keep the meeting factual. It is very important to not let any of your emotions, particularly anger, to get involved in the process.

Discuss the reasons for termination without pointing fingers and focus on the poor fit between the company and employee. Keep the meeting brief and as pleasant and positive as possible under the circumstances. If the employee wants to pursue the discussion, answer their questions professionally and courteously. Don't engage in discussions around reversing termination-tell them that the decision has been made.

If you've managed your employee properly, he or she won't be surprised by the news. In some cases, the employee may even be relieved.

Best Day to Fire an Employee
While there may be no best day to fire an employee, there is a worst day: Friday. Try to avoid firing or laying off an employee on Fridays, particularly Friday afternoons. The terminated employee won't be able to take action to look for another job until Monday when agencies and businesses are back on the clock.

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It's essential to follow a few basic tips and advice when learning how to fire an employee, from how to handle employee layoffs to following proper company layoff etiquette.

It's essential to follow a few basic tips and advice when learning how to fire an employee, from how to handle employee layoffs to following proper company layoff etiquette.

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