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Navigating the Difficult Task of Termination

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I need to terminate one of my employees, but I hesitate to do it. Do you have some advice to help me handle this dreaded task?

 A: Terminating an employee is probably the most difficult challenge a manager faces, so I understand your hesitation. If you’re sure that you’ve set clear objectives; provided training, counseling, or mentoring opportunities; and have followed your organization’s progressive discipline process but the person still isn’t performing to agreed-upon standards, then termination is probably the next step.

Usually, progressive disciplinary policies outline a three-step process, starting with a verbal warning, proceeding to a written warning, and finally ending with termination. Some organizations may put the employee on a performance improvement plan (commonly known as a PIP), which has carefully outlined objectives and timelines and clearly states that failure to meet the objectives in the given time frame  may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.

Once you’ve made your decision that termination is what is necessary, don’t procrastinate.

So, let’s say that you have followed all these steps, and the employee is still underperforming. If your organization has a human resources department, I strongly suggest you work with your HR professional to implement your termination plan. Most organizations have a review process that may involve getting approval from your outside employment attorney or your general counsel and, most likely, your executive director or president. These steps are necessary to protect the organization from legal action, but, unfortunately, no matter how well you plan and execute a termination, it may at times result in a lawsuit.

When terminating an employee, always have someone with you, such as the HR person. Work out all the details, such as severance pay or other financial incentives, ahead of time. Prepare what you will say before the meeting and rehearse it. This is not the time for small talk—get right to the point and in a couple of sentences say that today is the employee’s last day.

It helps to then turn the meeting over to the HR person, who can talk about severance, benefits, or anything else that needs to be taken care of immediately, such as collecting keys and passwords. It’s important that you hold firm on your decision and not let the employee try and negotiate another chance. If you’ve followed your policies, you’ve already provided ample feedback and opportunities to improve.

Once you’ve made your decision that termination is necessary, don’t procrastinate. Good performers want to work with other good performers, so if you’ve got someone who isn’t pulling his or her weight, you stand to lose a good employee who is tired of filling the performance gap for the underperformer.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

Performance Management