Letting Go is Never Easy: 6 Ways to Make it Easier

A Professional Employer Organization (PEO) can help you find a great candidate, how to set your new hire up for success, and how you can intervene early to try and save a flailing employee. But what if these efforts fall short – they can’t bring their skills up to snuff and you can’t help them get there?

Sadly, it’s now time to talk termination. A PEO can help the parting of ways go a little easier. Below are six ways a PEO can be by your side to make the whole process effective, legal (because there’s plenty of places for pitfalls), and slightly less cringeworthy.

Pick a day:
There are two schools of thought when it comes to picking a day to deliver the bad news: If you choose a Monday morning, they have the whole week to start looking for a new job, but doing a Friday afternoon firing can be less disruptive to your other staff if they were to make a scene, can give them a few days to cool off and come up with a plan.

When deciding, think first about what is best for your company – the employee is being let go, regardless of when you do it, so putting the needs of your remaining workforce first should be the priority.

Start your defense early:
Unfortunately, litigation after you let someone go is a real threat, so you need to think ahead and take steps before you deliver the news to protect yourself and your company. A PEO is a perfect ally, as their human resource experts have years of experience with these kinds of situations. Below are a few sub-tips for making sure you’re legally clear to move forward with the firing.

  • Review their past performance: Before you let someone go, review their past two or three performance reviews. Are they all glowing? If so, you’re going to have a harder time proving that firing will be justified, unless they did something majorly egregious in the months since their last performance review, and it may be better – from a legal perspective – to give them a warning and put them on a performance improvement plan (PIP). However, if you have documented data showing that they aren’t meeting goals, this provides you with some protection should they tell the courts that your decision to sever ties did not come out of anywhere.
  • Research your state’s laws as it pertains to terminating employees. Even if your business is located in an “at will” state or the worker is employed “at will” – meaning that an employer can fire an employee for any reason, or no reason, with no warning, and without having to establish just cause – you still need to make sure that your reasons could stand up if you ever had to go to court. If you are on the fence, consult your company’s legal team or, if you’re with a PEO, you can bat the questions over to their legal team.
  • Practice what you are going to say, but we’re not just talking about saying it in a mirror. Rather, write down all your talking points and then run them by your company’s lawyer or a PEO’s to make sure everything you are saying is on the right side of the law.
  • Another consideration to further protect you from legal action down the line is to consider giving your employee a release. These forms are recommended by HR professionals for use with any employee who is being terminated who is a minority, female, or over age 40, but really you can use one whenever you have concerns. Again, consult with your company’s lawyer or PEO to determine whether such a form is necessary for your particular situation.

Delivering the news:
There is no easy way to let someone know that you are letting them go – but there are easier ways, both for you in terms of the delivery of the news and for them in terms of hearing it. Your best bet is to keep it short and sweet and to the point. Let the employee know that the reason you are having the meeting today is to inform them that they are being terminated “for cause” and again, this goes back to that egregious issue, or the fact that they have fallen short on a performance review and have not taken steps to remediate the issue to your satisfaction. Now is not the time to provide all the background information or listen to their excuses – instead let them know that your decision is final.

Don’t commiserate:
When delivering tough news, we often try to seek common ground and appear empathetic. However, trotting out the tried and true “I know how you feel” or “you’ll thank me for this later,” because it isn’t going to do anything to diffuse the tension and can instead open the door for debate about why you are letting this employee go. Now, that isn’t to say that you can’t or shouldn’t listen to what the employee has to say, but rather you should remain objective and not sway significantly from your script.

Wrap it up:
As part of the big goodbye, you also need to tie up all the loose ends. As part of your conversation, you need to discuss if they are eligible for severance pay, and if so how much, how any unused vacation time will be paid out, and where to send their last paycheck. In addition, you’ll want to cover when their benefits will terminate and what their next steps should be in order to maintain coverage, such as COBRA insurance. You should also let them know how you plan to handle wrapping up any lingering projects they are on board with, as well as how you will explain their absence to clients and coworkers. Mention if you are willing to provide a reference in subsequent job searches and what you will say if asked. In short, you want to wrap up all the loose ends so that HR, your payroll department, and even your managers don’t have to keep pestering the now fired employee for this information and can instead leave them to move on in peace.

Get outta here!
This one seems kind of cold, but it’s completely based in practicality. After you’ve delivered the news, go ahead and escort them to pick up their things and then walk them to the door, making sure to collect any keys or passcards. In doing this, you’ll be able to prevent them from taking any files, sending any nasty emails to their peers, or worse, clients. You’ll also want to close them out virtually, which means going ahead and terminating their access to your network, as well as their company phone, email, and any other relevant systems that they can use for business or communicate with clients. If they have a company credit card or any other financial liabilities, you’ll also want to terminate access to those as soon as possible. We recognize this seems harsh, but it’s all about protecting you and your company from any form of retaliation.  Soften the blow somewhat by walking him or her to the door, shaking their hand, and wishing them well in their new endeavor, but avoid the urge to linger or get further pulled into an emotional goodbye.

Now, you should know that even if you do everything right during a termination conversation, chances are you still won’t feel good after they leave. The nature of the conversation is uncomfortable, and it is totally human that you would feel bad for upsetting a former colleague – and possibly even friend. However, you must remember that letting this person go paves the way for you to usher in a new, more effective worker, which is a change that you – and your colleagues – can feel good about.