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How you fire an employee makes a difference

Part of owning a business here in South Florida is hiring and firing employees. Working with different personalities, skill levels and temperaments often presents a challenge. When an employee no longer fits into your business structure for whatever reason, you may begin thinking about terminating his or her employment.

However, you are probably keenly aware that many complaints filed against companies stem from disgruntled former employees who allege that their employers illegally fired them. Even though you could still face a complaint for wrongful termination, how you handle the firing of an employee could make all the difference in how that claim ends.

Don't fire someone "out of the blue"

Even though there may be circumstances under which you should terminate an employee on the spot, in most cases, doing so could backfire. You need to have some sort of policies and procedures in place for your employees to follow. They need to know what you expect of them from the date of hire. You can't exactly get upset with an employee for not doing something you never told him or her to do. Be clear in your expectations.

If the employee's performance isn't what you expect it to be over time, then see if there is a way to improve his or her performance. Establishing a performance improvement plan with specific guidelines and requirements may be all an employee needs to improve and become a valuable member of the company. If the employee fails to improve, it should not come as a surprise to the employee when you fire him or her.

It is vital that you document everything throughout this process. Not only does it provide concrete feedback for the employee, but it also provides security for you and your company if things fail to go as planned.

Plan a meeting to fire the employee

Once you believe that you have provided an employee with ample warnings regarding his or her failure to improve, you may decide the time has come to terminate the working relationship. The next steps are just as important in your attempt to avoid unnecessary litigation. Plan to fire the individual in person with at least one witness in the room with you.

You should not need to go into belabored details regarding why you are firing the individual. He or she already knows if you followed a PIP and provided written feedback and warnings. Instead, you may just let the employee know that his or her performance has not improved, and therefore, you must terminate his or her employment. Keep it short and sweet.

Any information you discover after the event may also help your case if the individual attempts to file a complaint associated with the termination. The more "diplomatically" you handle the situation, the higher the chances are that there won't be any repercussions to your business. If a lawsuit is filed, you should have adequate documentation to show that the termination was legal.

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