Dismissing an employee
Dismissing someone is a task that you'll undoubtedly dread having to do. However, it's something that many business owners will have to do at some point, so it makes sense to fully understand how to dismiss someone, and why the situation needs to be handled with care.
If your knowledge of the business world comes solely from The Apprentice, you could be forgiven for thinking that dismissing someone is as simple as pointing at them and hollering ‘you’re fired’. Of course, it’s not quite that straightforward.
The first thing to note is that dismissing someone is different from making them redundant. Though the consequence is the same – the employee losing their position – the circumstances that bring about the dismissal are not.
As the business owner, your objective is to ensure the success of your overall operation. This means producing the best product, offering the best service, and progressing in a way that will help the business to thrive.
If a member of staff is hampering your goals, either because of their attitude, inability to work well with colleagues, or lack of ability, then you, as the business owner, may conclude that they are preventing your company from functioning efficiently. If this is the case, and all other options have already been exhausted, then removing them from the company may be the only way to proceed.
Coming to the decision
Ensure that your decision to dismiss someone is entirely justified. Has the employee been performing poorly for an extended period, or are they just going through a rough patch? Could they benefit from additional training? Have you already given them an adequate number of warnings? Have you discussed the situation with a senior member of your team? Did they come to the same conclusion?
If you’ve considered these options and still believe dismissing the employee is the only way forward, the next thing to do is make sure the process is handled properly.
When dismissing someone, make sure that there is a witness present. By doing this you are ensuring that someone without an agenda is privy to the conversation. This could be crucial should the terminated party decide to escalate the case further down the line.
Create a list of reasons that back up your decision. This will give you additional clarity, and will prevent you from changing your mind once it has been made up. It’s not always necessary to tell the employee exactly what behaviours have led to them losing their job, simply declaring that they’ve failed to achieve what was expected of them is often enough.
Sometimes you’ll want to state the specific actions. They may ask you for a more comprehensive assessment, but it is up to you how to decide to respond. Only discuss the issues if you believe it is entirely necessary. Be assertive, but not aggressive. Always remember that it’s a difficult situation for everyone involved, and there’s rarely anything to be gained by being hostile.
Explain to the individual the terms of the dismissal. Let them know how much severance pay (if any) they’ll be given, and also what other benefits they’ll be entitled to. Put this in writing for additional clarity.
It’s worth knowing what you’ll say should you be asked to supply a reference at some point in the future. The individual may ask what you’ll say should this situation arise, so have an answer prepared. It might be worth speaking to a lawyer to get an idea of what you should say, how you should say it, and whether you are obliged to say anything at all.
Get it done at the beginning of the week. This will not only get the dismissal out of the way at the earliest opportunity, but it will afford the employee time to begin searching for a new job immediately.
Limiting distress is a vital part of the process. It generally makes sense to tell the employee that they should leave the premises immediately; it makes no sense for them to remain at work once they have been told that they are no longer needed. Most individuals will leave without causing any trouble, but escorting them outside may be necessary if you believe they have the potential to steal or damage equipment or documents. Make sure they hand in all company property – laptops, phones, credit cards, keys – before they leave the office for the final time.
After the dismissal has taken place, there’s still work to do. The rest of your team will need to be made aware of the decision, and will generally require at least need a basic understanding of why it has happened. This will ensure they understand the reasoning behind the decision.
You will also have to reassign the employee’s duties, either permanently, or until you can hire a replacement. It’s important that you don’t overload current employees by making them take on a multitude of additional duties. If you’re hoping to reallocate the employee’s responsibilities to someone else, have a private discussion about what this means for them, how their role could change, and whether it will result in a pay increase.