The word "fired" clearly has negative associations in the workplace, but if you're a manager, you need to be prepared to let people go if they're underperforming or causing significant problems for the company. Knowing how and when to fire someone is essential if you're going to do it right.
Few people enjoy the prospect of terminating an employee. It's stressful, unpleasant, and can be very legally complicated. Yes, we live in a terribly litigious society, but you can take steps to protect yourself and your company from unwanted litigation by proceeding carefully and in accordance with all applicable state and federal laws.
First, make certain that your company has established clear written policies regarding the types of employee conduct that could result in some kind of disciplinary action, up to and including termination. Be sure the policy is specific, spelling out the kind of conduct that is unacceptable such as drug use or possession, theft, or sexual harassment. Also, you must be certain that this information is accessible to all employees. This is best accomplished by including it in an employee handbook given to all new hires. In addition, it is smart to ask that new employees sign an agreement stating that they have read and understand this policy.
Document All Warnings
Your company should also have some kind of probation policy. In other words, if an employee is not meeting expectations and is failing on the job, he or she should receive a warning in writing, which is then kept in his or her personnel file.
If you give the employee a verbal warning, you must remember to document this as well. Don't rely on your memory to maintain a record; write down what you said quickly following the conversation. Hopefully, the below par performance will improve after such a formal reprimand. If, however, the employee continues to perform poorly, it is important to prove that he or she received prior notice from a manager.
For a thorough overview of this important issue, read Documentation of Employee Performance Issues.
Spell Out Your Expectations Clearly
As you work toward resolving performance issues, understand that some employees may simply need more direction than others and more clearly stated expectations. Don't feel foolish for asking the employee to state back what you've said. For some people, nodding in agreement or responding with, "Yes, I understand," simply isn't enough. They need to repeat what they've heard before it really makes an impression.
Should you make the final decision to fire the employee, be sure to have someone from your human resources department present. This will help ensure your safety and establish a "witness" who might later be needed to corroborate any verbal exchange that might occur. Be sure to read Setting the Proper Tone for a Termination Meeting for guidelines on how to handle this challenging confrontation.