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Mistakes in Firing an Employee: A Legal Perspective
Firing an employee is never an easy task, and it is fraught with potential pitfalls. In my experience, there have been several learning curves that I’ve navigated while letting go of employees. I want to provide you with some insight into these challenges and offer a solution that minimizes discomfort and legal risks.
The Common Challenge
Every manager, at some point, encounters employees who don’t align with the team’s vision or fail to meet performance standards. This can be a challenge, both emotionally and procedurally. The aim is to handle such situations with grace, clarity, and fairness.
Key Insights from an HR Expert
While facing this challenge, an insightful interaction with an HR expert named Lori shed light on a more streamlined approach to letting employees go. Her technique not only simplifies the process but also safeguards the organization from potential legal pitfalls.
1. Keep It Short and Clear
An essential principle Lori highlighted is that during the firing conversation, less is more. Trying to soften the blow with compliments or extended dialogue can lead to confusion and prolong an already uncomfortable situation.
2. The Power of “For the Reasons We Discussed”
This phrase is the cornerstone of Lori’s advice. Instead of rehashing the myriad reasons for termination, referencing prior conversations ensures clarity without the need for extensive dialogue. The phrase “For the reasons we discussed” serves multiple purposes:
- Clear Prior Communication: It implies that the reasons for the decision have been previously discussed and understood.
- Legally Safe: By referencing prior discussions, managers can avoid rehashing potentially contentious details during the termination process.
- Clear Expectations and Feedback Loop: Before reaching the termination stage, managers should have already provided feedback on performance issues and set clear expectations for improvement.
Prior Conversations are Key
Before the termination conversation, there should already have been a meeting outlining:
- The Job’s Expectations: Clearly communicate what is expected from the employee in their specific role.
- Performance Discrepancies: Point out how the employee’s current performance isn’t aligning with the job’s expectations.
By facilitating this dialogue and possibly following up with an email, you are setting a clear stage for the final conversation.
When Immediate Termination Is Necessary
There are clear-cut scenarios where an employee’s actions, like theft, demand immediate firing without prior discussion. The expectations in such situations are typically already enshrined in law or company policy.
Making Expectations Transparent
For more ambiguous situations, like when an employee’s productivity isn’t meeting the mark, clarity is crucial. Asking employees to relay their understanding of their job expectations can further cement clarity and avoid future misunderstandings.
The phrase “For the reasons we discussed” is a powerful tool that helps streamline the firing process. By establishing clear expectations beforehand and referencing those discussions during the termination, you can ensure clarity, minimize discomfort, and protect yourself legally. Firing will never be a pleasant process, but with these strategies, it can be more straightforward and respectful for all parties involved.
What Is the Biggest Mistake I Made When Firing Employees?
I have probably hired well over a hundred employees. And in that time, statistically, you run into some employees who don’t do the job well. They don’t do it right. They are not a good fit for the team. Something along those lines.
And I remember speaking with an HR expert one time. Her name was Lori, and Lori taught me a brilliant concept that I want to share with you today that makes it so much easier to let employees go. It removes some of the awkwardness and pain for the employee leaving, it removes some of the awkwardness and pain for you as the one letting them go, and it protects you from a legal standpoint as well.
A Proven Technique for Employee Termination
And here is the technique, she said, “Whenever you let somebody go, remember nothing you say is going to make them feel better. So don’t drag it on. Don’t compliment them. Don’t sit and say a bunch of things. That creates a confusing message, and the whole conversation is awkward. They just want to get out of there. So make it short.”
And then the second piece, and this is the most powerful, she said, “Use this line: ‘For the reasons we discussed.'” I will give you an example:
“Hi, Jim. I wanted to talk with you today. This is a difficult conversation, but I wanted to let you know, for the reasons we have discussed, we are letting you go. If you want, you can elaborate for a sentence or two more. You can meet with HR about any procedural questions you have, but here are the next steps, and then you lay those out. You will be given an opportunity to go to HR and clean out your desk and take your personal belongings. And this is effective immediately.”
It doesn’t always have to be effective immediately, by the way. I have had many employees where I give them days or even weeks. It really depends on the maturity level and the risk of the employee.
Setting Clear Expectations
But here is the magic of this phrase, “For the reasons we discussed.” And why is that so important? First off, it means that you have already discussed those reasons. That the reasons are very clear. And what that entails is a prior meeting where you explain to the employee, “Here are the expectations of the job, and here is how your performance is not matching those expectations. For you to continue to be in this role, your behavior needs to match the expectations.” And so that way, when you have that conversation about letting the person go, you say, “For the reasons we discussed.” You are referencing the expectations for the job and how their performance or behavior is not matching those expectations.
Now, obviously, if they steal money or do something like that, you don’t have to have a conversation about how their behavior doesn’t match the expectations. The expectations were clear. They are written in the law. Often, they are just let go immediately.
Understanding of Role Expectations
But where their performance is below what is expected but not necessarily intentional or not egregious or not a violation of trust. But let’s say, for example, you expect a certain level of productivity and they are below that level. You want to make it very clear what the expectation is. Sometimes in that initial conversation, you even ask, “I want to make sure that I am clearly communicating what that expectation is. Could you share with me what you are hearing from me?” And that way, it is coming from their mouth. You might even consider following up with an email afterward that says,
“Hi Jim, I appreciated talking with you today. For your reference, here are some of the key points regarding the expectation for your role, and it is important that your performance aligns with that expectation.”
And then you might list some bullet points regarding the expectation. That way, when you have the next conversation, you say, “For the reasons we discussed.” Jim, or the employee, knows exactly what you are talking about.
Why “For the Reasons We Discussed” Is a Game-Changer
The performance of the employee isn’t matching the expectation of the role. And you had an opportunity to correct that, and it wasn’t corrected. And you might even say, “For the reasons we discussed, the job requires performance at this level or this sort of behavior, and your performance hasn’t matched that over the last few days. So we are letting you go” And you can give them an opportunity to ask any questions they have. But that line “For the reasons we discussed.” Is one of the greatest little nuggets that I learned about how to make the firing of an employee more effective and clear and eliminate some of that awkwardness of dragging it on and having to talk about all of it. You don’t want to get into all the details. You just simply reference it, “For the reasons we discussed. In light of the fact that your performance has not matched those expectations, we are letting you go.”
If you would like more information about any of these topics today, if you are interested in a business owner and getting educated on common mistakes business owners make and how to avoid them yourself, you can go to aaronhall.com/free and sign up to get a number of videos and other resources to help equip you to prevent problems in your business.
This is for entrepreneurs, startups, business owners, and CEOs. Generally, I am thinking about companies with under 500 employees, even as few as one or two, because for you as a business owner or a future business owner, you can either prevent these problems or pay the much more expensive cost of having the problem and having to clean it up afterward.
The purpose of this YouTube channel is to help you avoid problems, grow your company, provide great value to your customers and clients, create a great environment for the people that you work with, and experience the success that comes from having a good company built on best practices.
I am Aaron Hall, an attorney for business owners and entrepreneurs. If you have questions about any of this, feel free to put them in the comment section below. Look forward to seeing you next time.