What You Should Do Before Letting an Employee Go

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Every business owner knows it can and almost certainly will happen at some point. You’ll have to let someone go. Yet, firing an employee is difficult for everyone involved. With a few rare exceptions, people don’t enjoy being the bad guy. When you tell someone they don’t work for you anymore, you become the bad guy in that person’s story regardless of how justified you are in taking the action. All of that means that there are several key actions you should take before you take that final step. Keep reading for a quick overview of those actions.

Discuss Expectations

All too often, unclear expectations underlie what seem like clearly unacceptable behaviors on the part of an employee. Very early on, you should have a clear discussion with your employees about their domain of responsibility and authority. If an employee knows, for sure, that something is in someone else’s wheelhouse, they typically won’t act beyond their authority. They’ll pass the problem or decision up the chain to the appropriate person.

If an employee doesn’t know that something is or isn’t beyond the scope of their position, it puts the employee in a bad position. You, however unintentionally, force them to make decisions about whether they should try to do something. It’s unfair and can lead to misunderstandings and hard feelings.

Maintain Those Boundaries

Once you establish an employee’s domain of responsibility and authority, it’s on you to reinforce those boundaries. All too often, a business owner or manager will ask go-to employees to take on tasks or duties that exceed the employee’s job description. That blurs the employee’s sense of what they are responsible for managing. It also blurs their sense of their own authority.

While giving employees more responsibility is a good way to bring them along, it should come with a fresh discussion of their responsibilities and authority. Establishing their new boundaries is as important for the new position as it was for their old position.

Offer Verbal Corrections

When an employee acts in ways you find unacceptable, you should offer verbal corrections. Pulling an employee aside to let them know they overstepped gives them a chance to fix the problem moving forward. This is particularly important if you think you may have had a hand in blurring their expectations.

Of course, this applies primarily to problems not clearly spelled out in your HR policies. Harassment, abuse, and illegal behaviors should elicit immediate and harsh punishments. Behaviors that only push the edges of professionalism merit the gentler verbal correction.

Written Warnings

If an employee’s behaviors continue to push those boundaries, you should move on to written warnings. Written warnings offer several benefits. One of the big ones is that they create a paper trail that may prove helpful if letting someone go becomes a legal mess. Written warnings can also have a sobering effect on an employee. Someone who didn’t take a verbal correction seriously will often give much more weight to a written warning.

Before you take this step, make sure that you’re employing good write up reasons. That includes things like insubordination, poor attendance, declining performance, and safety violations.

Intervention Meeting

If you think an employee has promised but they continue to act in unacceptable ways, consider an intervention meeting. This meeting is the one where you lay out all the ways the employee has acted in unacceptable ways. Then, you make it clear to them that they are out of chances. Any behaviors that warrant additional verbal or written warnings will become grounds for immediate termination.

This is the last-ditch effort by most business owners or managers to keep an employee that does good work, but can’t seem to find their professional boundaries. If this intervention meeting fails to bring out a behavior change, it’s time to let an employee go.

Very few bosses relish the idea of letting employees go. It’s stressful for the manager or business owner. It’s also painful for the employee. Taking the steps above serves as a process that can help you navigate that unpleasantness. If nothing else, you can know that you took a series of reasonable steps to try to resolve the problem. If the employee didn’t take all of those hints, it’s not really on you at that point.

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