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Follow these 5 rules when firing a staffer

Managers make a lot of clumsy mistakes with firings. And it’s usually because they don’t know what to say. Sometimes they want to make the firing easier on the employee. Sometimes they want to make it easier on themselves.

Here are five firing pointers. They are provided by management consultant Robert G. Rose, PhD, of the Rose Porterfield Group in Dallas.

1 The discussion is now ended

First isn’t what to do but what not to do. Don’t unload on the staffer.

Sometimes that’s hard to avoid, Rose says. The manager has already counseled the staffer through a laundry list of bad performance and is fed up. It’s only human to want to say “Staffer, you are rude to me. You are rude to our patients. You never turn your work in on time. And two weeks ago . . . “

Resist the temptation. Citing the transgressions is an invitation “to talk about each of those details.” And once the talking starts, the staffer can sit there and discredit every reason for the termination.

The time for discussion has passed, he says. The employee has already been warned and the conversation has ended.

Keep the firing notice short and direct: “Your performance and your behavior toward our patients and the other staff is not acceptable. I am therefore terminating your employment.”

If the staffer asks for details or wants to debate, stop the conversation with “I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but there’s nothing to talk about.” Then immediately change the subject to what comes next such as the final paycheck and continuing benefits.

2 Read my lips: you’re fired

Next, be clear about what’s happening. The employee is being fired. Don’t muddy the message. Many a manager tries to soften the blow by softening the words, Rose says. But soft words can distort what the staffer hears.

He gives the example of one manager “who was trying to be as supportive and kind as possible” and so started out with “things just haven’t worked out as well as we had hoped” and ended with “there are new opportunities out there for you.”

The man showed up for work the next day “because he didn’t know he had been fired.”

Leave no room for misinterpretation. Tell the staffer “We are terminating your employment. Today is your last day.”

3 Call it what it is

Another point: don’t lie about the reason for the termination. If it’s a firing for cause, don’t call it a layoff. Some employers do that to avoid the confrontation. Instead of saying “Margaret, we’re terminating you because your performance does not meet our expectations,” they tell Margaret the economy is bad and she’s being laid off.

Calling it a layoff can entitle her to unemployment compensation. Calling it a layoff can also spawn a claim of employment discrimination. If Margaret is pregnant and over age 40 and if the office hires a man to fill her position, she can come back with a winnable claim of discrimination based on pregnancy, age, or gender.

Conversely, don’t call it a firing if it’s a layoff. That’s done often. An employer wants to cut salary costs and zeros in on the poorest performer and trumps up a case for termination. The employer says the poor performance has been going on for years, but file mentions it only during the last two months.

Whenever someone is fired for cause, “the office had better be able to prove it.” And there had better not be contradictory evidence such as e-mails with the doctors about the need to cut salaries.

4 The calm-down after the storm

Then there’s the aftermath to consider, or what to say to everybody else after a staffer gets fired. There needs to be some type of comment lest the office look like an execution chamber. At least say Staffer A has left. And along with that, allay any fears that have arisen because of the firing.

Suppose the staffer was given full opportunity to improve but to no avail. The counseling was extensive but has been kept private. Now the staffer is fired, and the other staff think it was done on the spot and that poor Staffer A never saw it coming. And come to think of it, was that maybe a layoff? And is the office in economic trouble? And is everybody else’s job in jeopardy? In a situation like that, give more than the standard “Staffer A is no longer with us.” Add enough detail to quell the rumors, perhaps “This wasn’t done precipitously. I’m not going to go into detail, but we are not going through layoffs.”

5 The good-bye and here’s door

One more firing caution is to show the former employee to the door immediately. Don’t let a terminated person talk with the other staff. Have that person leave as soon as the firing meeting ends. Letting somebody go back to the desk unaccompanied provides an opportunity to destroy property and talk negatively about the office.

And even if there’s no damage risk, it makes no sense for anybody to stay in the office after being fired, Rose says. That person is saying “I’m no longer working here, but I’m going to stick around.”

Even if there’s going to be two weeks’ severance pay, end the relationship with the firing “and get that person out of there.”

Editor’s picks:

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