“You’re fired!” has become Donald Trump’s catchphrase thanks to the TV show, The Apprentice. However, when it actually comes to terminating someone, making such a blunt statement isn’t always in the best interest of the company.


An employee should never be surprised by their termination and, absent egregious situations (such as the employee who shows up to work high on an illegal substance), most employers have a process in place to give employees an opportunity to correct behavioral or performance issues before the decision to end employment is made. Here’s a good checklist for supervisors and managers to follow:


1.     Does the employee know and understand the rule, policy or performance expectation?  Many companies issue handbooks that are filled with a lot of policies.  Expecting an employee to remember that paragraph 1, section 3 of rule 46 said he wasn’t supposed to do that thing he does isn’t practical. As a first step in the progressive discipline process, reminding the employee of the rule and giving him a copy of it will ensure the employee is aware of the rule. If he continues to violate the same rule, we can keep disciplining him up to and including termination.  A similar approach can be taken with the performance expectation.  If someone is not manufacturing enough “widgets” within a day or if he’s missing deadlines, that is a performance issue and should be brought to his attention.  Once we’ve set the expectation and perhaps provided some additional training to ensure the employee understands how to perform the task, the employee’s performance should improve or a decision may need to be made that this person just isn’t a good fit for the job and should be terminated.

2.     Has the incident been investigated? Frequently, whether or not the employee actually violated the rule has to be investigated.  For example, when one employee accuses another of harassment, the incident has to be investigated in order to determine whether or not the claim has merit.  This may involve interviewing witnesses, reviewing how similar incidents have been handled in the past and reviewing the work record of the employee involved.  All of this information will be used to determine which level of discipline is appropriate.

3.     Have all the facts surrounding the company’s prior practices, the employee’s work history, and any extenuating circumstances been taken into consideration?  Just because an employee isn’t performing up to our standard or has violated one of our work rules doesn’t mean we’re ready to terminate the individual.  In the case of someone who is frequently absent, if we learn that the reason for the absences was due to an underlying health condition, the company may choose to look at providing some additional time off as a reasonable accommodation under Americans with Disabilities Act rather than terminating him.

4.     Don’t make a decision to terminate when angry and don’t lose your temper when meeting with the employee.  We’re all human and sometimes our emotions get the best of us. Call for a cooling off period before you meet with the employee to discuss the situation.  Treat the employee as professionally as possible when meeting with him and do not act in any way that can be perceived as retaliatory toward the individual.

5.     Meet with the employee to discuss the situation.  Listen to his or her side of the story.  Allowing an employee to tell his side of the story allows him feel that the company has taken his point of view into consideration.  It may not ultimately change our decision to terminate the person, but it does give him an opportunity to be heard. It is never a good idea to communicate a termination via mail, email or the telephone.  We are making a decision that impacts a life.  We owe the employee the courtesy of talking with him face-to-face.

6.     Treat the employee with dignity.  This is one of the most stressful situations an individual can experience.  Focus on the unacceptable conduct or performance rather on the employee himself. Don’t embarrass the employee.


Terminations are never easy.  However, by following these steps, you can minimize the stress on you as well as the employee.



Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. HCCMO members receive discounted rates on all EAF classroom training at EAF’s training center in Longwood. Click here for currently scheduled programs: http://www.eafinc.org/online_store/training/HCCMO/training_programs.pdf.

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