How to Fire Someone Correctly?

Angry boss

That’s it, you have an employee that needs to go, and this was the last straw! Where did you put the performance reviews?

Stop, take a deep breath and step back.

The correct way to fire or terminate an employee is a three-step process. First, you should immediately inform the employee of an issue or mistake as soon as it happens. Make sure you explain what is/was expected. Second, support and train the employee to make sure they don’t make or create the same mistake or issue again. Third, if after all the support and training the issue still happens, then you start your disciplinary process which may lead to termination.

The knee jerk reaction of firing someone is not the proper response without proper historical documentation. If you only had verbal conversations with someone with no written follow-ups…then you don’t have a case for termination with cause. As an owner or manager. you should have already had the following in place.

Angry boss

First, Performance Reviews & Praise

You must review and give feedback on all employees. If you are a larger organization then supervisors and managers will help you do this. This is a vital first step that will allow you to properly train employees and weed out the bad.

Probation Period reviews and progress meetings should be done weekly or monthly. Even though you can let an employee go without notice or cause in the first three months in Alberta. The last thing you need is a bad employee sneaking past the probation period to become a long-term problem. Even if the firing is with cause, people will try to complain. Your performance reviews will support you with proper history!

For current employees, ongoing monthly or quarterly Performance Reviews and progress meetings are important to help you identify issues before they become a problem. In my opinion, yearly reviews are not enough because they may be influenced by only the most recent events. Monthly reviews are bestOpens in a new tab.!

Keep the reviews very simple to save time for you, your supervisors, and managers. It should only take you five minutes or less to fill out a review form. The review can be 3-5 standard but important questions rating from 0 to 3 points. 0 for poor, 1 for needs improvement, 2 for good, and save 3 for excellent employees that go beyond. By using a number, you can track and see a running graph of their overall performance.  After filling out the review, meet with the employee to address any issues and to give credit and praise.

Performance Reviews: Credit and Praise

This is a short part. The most important thing you can do is give credit and praise to your hard-working employees. Owners and managers may not want to give much credit because they don’t want employees to ask for a raise. Naturally, you would agree that if you were in this situation you would also want a raise. If no raise was given then you would start considering leaving the organization. The fact is, if someone is helping your organization make money or achieve goals then they should get a raise!

That being said you can at least control the raises. Base pay raises on performance not length of time with the organization. Every X number of positive performance reviews promises a small raise or something like this. You can get really creative and make it a year-end draw for each positive review. Some show of gratitude will generate trust and loyalty increasing employee engagement.

Second, Identifying Issues with Performance Reviews

Through your performance review process, you may identify issues. When you do find an issue your first reaction should be to help the employee to improve. In your progress meeting, you and the employee both should work on an action plan to make the corrections.

Do they need more on-the-job training? Do they need to take a course? What date will this be done? What level of improvement will be expected by the next review?

Make sure you document the action plan and do proper follow-ups daily, weekly, monthly, or as needed until the next review. You need to show that you have truly tried to help and support the employee to improve. If you speak to them make sure you follow up with an e-mail documenting your conversations. These e-mails may be needed to help you in any future termination situation.  

Third, the Disciplinary Process

Most organizations have some sort of disciplinary process and a common one is the three-step process of Verbal, Written, and Final warnings. A Verbal warning is what you will issue if your employee has failed to improve their performance concerning their previous issue. Even though it is called a “Verbal” warning you still document it in the employee file and give them a copy.

After issuing the Verbal warning you will again give them an action plan to improve but this might be more your plan than a shared plan.

If at the next performance review or appointed time, they again failed to improve you will give them a Written warning. This time you will give them very specific goals that they need to meet, or their employment will be terminated. This is put into a very formal letter that you will sign, then give to them, and put a copy on their employee file.

Fourth, Termination with Cause

It can be very hard to prove the termination of employment with a cause. This is because most organizations don’t want to do the simple work I listed above. They just don’t have the documented history that is needed even though it really is not that hard to do. Unfortunately, most owners or managers just don’t know what they need to do. This is where a good HR ConsultantOpens in a new tab. or HR Manager can help!

At this point, if an employee has not improved or met the goals you have set forth, you will have just cause and the documented history.

With the Final warning, you still have a lot of options if you really don’t want to terminate their employment.  This is always a chance that you and other employees really like the employee in question. So, you could move them to a different role doing work they may be better suited for. You can also give them a suspension but keep them in the role. After coming back from suspension, you could move them to a different role or fire them on their next mistake or if they show no improvement. Ultimately, with all this documentation you do have just cause to terminate their employment.

This whole process above should be about three to six months.

Zero, Serious Incidents

Serious Incidents or an Absolut Policy allow you to bypass the process above but you still need to do some preparation. You need to identify the serious incidents in your organization that will not be tolerated, create buy-in from employees, and give employees ample time to learn about the policy.

A construction company could write, “Neglecting to do your maintenance checks & reports on heavy equipment will not be tolerated.” Especially if the preventable repair will cost the company $100,000! For a company that has office workers only, it’s hard to say “Neglecting to load the photocopier with paper will not be tolerated.”

Your chosen serious incidents must be extreme. Major financial loss for the organization, major damage to company reputation, major harassment or violence, or a situation with a real possibility of serious injury or death are the types of things on this list.

After you have chosen your list then you need to spend time generating buy-in from employees and sharing the new policy before it takes effect. Ask your employees for input and update the policy as needed to get their participation. After the final draft is done tell everyone that it takes effect on a certain date that may be a month or more away.

This is still a two to three-month process with no guarantees that you can bypass the performance review process above.

Finally, The Real Point

The real point of these processes above is not to fire someone correctly.  The real point is that you become a good boss or managerOpens in a new tab. and truly try to support your employees. I’m sorry that I deceived you!

  • Probation reviews help keep out the problems.
  • Performance reviews help you improve your current employees.
  • Serious Incident Policies protect the organization in extreme situations.

Use these tools correctly and you really should not be in a frustrating situation where the knee jerk reaction is a sudden undocumented without cause termination of employment.

Ian Hopfe

Ian Hopfe is the owner of LBH Business Services Inc. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Ian is an Indigenous Human Resources Consultant. He has over ten years experience in HR and over fifteen years experience in management. All blog articles on this website are written by Ian unless a guest writer is indicated on the post.

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