Don’t Get Trumped!


Before he was our President, Donald Trump would routinely let people go on TV with his trademarked, “You’re Fired” send off. However, it is not quite as funny when it is a long-time employee in a dealership rather than some celebrity apprentice. The unpleasant reality of running a business is that sometimes people must be fired. Whether it’s for reasons beyond anyone’s control – an economic downturn, a shifting marketplace, etc. – or it is performance or conduct related, terminating an employee is never easy. Going about it the wrong way will result in an angry former staff member at best, and a hefty lawsuit at worst.

Unlike “The Donald” most of us don’t want a disgruntled ex-employee bad mouthing us to our customers and we certainly can’t afford a wrongful termination suit. Conversely, if you have a poor performer on your hands, you can’t afford to waste your time or money by keeping them around. There are certainly right and wrong ways about letting someone go… but how do you say “You’re Fired” from a legal and professional standpoint?

Depending on the situation, a severance package can go a long way in minimizing an employee’s potential anger. On the day of the dismissal meeting, invite your Human Resources person to sit in and handle the paperwork. For companies without HR, having a manager sit in on the process can be just as effective. This will allow the employee to shift his or her focus to logistics and signing the related paperwork rather than on having been let go.

By working hard to prepare in advance, a manager can ease the transition. In many instances that manager will never hear from the employee again. However, if a terminated employee does choose to take legal action, a prepared manager should have nothing to worry about.

Verbal Warning
Performance and conduct issues should not be a surprise… give the employee a clear and formal verbal warning that their actions are unacceptable. When giving a verbal warning, the employee is to be interviewed by the supervisor in private and made aware of the rule being abused or the performance problem. Any explanation the employee has to offer should be heard and potentially mitigating factors carefully considered. Finally, the employee is to be made aware of the improvement expected. The date and content of the discussion are to be recorded in a memorandum to be retained in the employee’s personnel file.

Written Warning
Documentation is the key to making a difficult situation a little bit easier. While ambushing and having to fire an employee on the spot does happen, it should be a rare occurrence. It is a work in progress for most employees that need to be fired because of performance issues. Owners or managers know it’s coming — usually months ahead of time. Actually, the employee should know it too, based on prior verbal warnings.

If you know you will have to let go of an employee because of performance issues, start documenting the lack of performance to make the transition smoother. If it is conduct-based, make sure to record the time and dates of the infractions and verbal warnings. There are many examples of written warning forms available online. Here is a link to one you can use:

PF_UnknownYou’re Fired!
In some cases, despite warnings, you still have to do the dirty deed of terminating an employee. Not all of us are going to be as glib as Mr. Trump when it comes time to say, “You’re Fired!” Here are a couple of tips to help:

Empathy is good, but do not sugarcoat it or mislead the employee.

Be compassionate: It is important to protect the employee’s dignity throughout the process. However, that doesn’t mean you should overlook the issues involved.

Stick to the facts: Some managers will use a cover story because he or she hasn’t been direct enough with the employee about the problems earlier. You won’t need a cover story if you set tangible goals early in the process. Just stick to the raw facts about their performance and their failure to live up to specific standards despite repeated warnings.

There is no laugh track in real life, but you can make it through the ‘reality show’ that is your day-to-day business if you stick to the script. There may come a day when you need to make a decision about someone’s future with your company and maybe this can help you say “You’re Fired.”


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