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Terminations can be hard… Are you making them harder?

Firing an employee is especially hard for small business owners. You have a personal relationship with your employees, you think of your office as a family — it’s painful to let one of them go. Unfortunately, if you have employees, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll eventually have to fire one of them. Here are some tips to make it easier.

How to simplify the termination process

  1. Your Employee Handbook

  2. From dress code to attendance, all of your policies should be spelled out in your Employee Handbook. Everyone should know what is expected of them. If your attendance policy states that an employee can be late three times and the fourth time they will be terminated, they can’t pretend they didn’t know what the consequence would be.

  3. Avoid surprises.

  4. No one should be surprised they’re being let go. Even with your policies written out, if an issue is coming up, have a conversation with your employee before it gets to the point of termination. That way they know what the issue is and they have a chance to improve.

  5. Documentation!

  6. Keeping good records simplifies the termination process and protects you in the rare case that an employee tries to sue for wrongful termination. If you’re firing an employee for being late four times, your documentation should show all four dates they were late, how late they were, and contain proof that you had a conversation with the employee about the issue.

More on wrongful termination

An employee can claim wrongful termination if they can prove they were discriminated against by their former employer. If you’re afraid of letting an employee go because it could look like wrongful termination, make sure you do your due diligence and keep good documentation. What does that mean?

EXAMPLE 1: Your office upgrades to a new software, but one of your older employees can’t get up to speed on the new program. Do your due diligence – provide trainings and talk to the employee multiple times about the issue. Document everything. If you end up having to terminate that employee, it should be clear that the issue was the employee’s inability to use the software, and not the age of the employee.

EXAMPLE 2: You have to fire the only woman in a male-dominated office. Be sure that if others have committed the same infraction that you are terminating this employee for, they were also terminated. Keep documentation of the previous terminations and the infraction that led to this termination.

Termination Do’s and Don’ts

  1. DON’T drag it out.

  2. Be succinct and to-the-point. Some employers add in a lot of positive comments about the employee to try to soften the blow – “You’re great, you’ve been such an asset to the company, etc.” This gives the employee the wrong impression and leaves them wondering “If I’m so great, why am I being let go?”

  3. DON’T argue.

  4. An employee might get heated and start telling you everything you’re doing wrong with the company. Don’t engage in that negative conversation. Try to understand it’s a difficult position for them to be in. If you defend yourself, it’s just adding fuel to the fire. Let them air out their grievances and say goodbye.

  5. DO have the conversation in person, either first thing in the morning or at lunchtime.

  6. Firing someone over the phone or at the end of the workday sets a bad tone for the other employees.

Terminating an employee is never easy. Remember to have clear policies and expectations from the beginning, and if it looks like something might become an issue, start documenting and don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your employee.

If, like a lot of small business owners, you don’t have time or energy to write an employee handbook or deal with attendance issues, a trustworthy PEO (professional employer organization) can handle that for you. This is just part of the services we offer our clients. Give us a call at (808) 354-0498 to find out what we could take off your plate. Visit our website at

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